Pats and Colts to meet for 13th time in 10 years

A nervous Tom Brady was warming up before his first pro start

when one of his opponents took a moment to introduce himself.

”He said, `Hi, Tom, I’m Peyton,’ ” Brady recalled, ”which I

thought was pretty cool.”

On that day in September 2001 in Foxborough, the Patriots

star-to-be was surprised that Peyton Manning, who already had been

in two Pro Bowls, even knew his name. Since then, the top

quarterbacks of the decade have been frequent foes.

New England and Indianapolis may be in different divisions, but

on Sunday two of the NFL’s most dominant franchises will meet for

the eighth straight season, the longest streak between non-division

opponents since the league realigned its divisions in 2002.

The tally so far: Patriots 7, Colts 5, including a 2-1 playoff

edge for New England.

”You look at last year’s notes, and they kind of look the same

with players and scouting reports and all the different things that

they do well and things that we’ve got to try to exploit,” Brady

said Wednesday. ”There’s a lot of familiarity.”

That first game, a 44-13 win in which Manning’s four

interceptions contributed plenty to the Patriots’ success, is the

most memorable to Brady in all his games against the Colts because

it was his first start. It came one week after Drew Bledsoe

suffered internal bleeding on a hard hit from Mo Lewis of the New

York Jets.

Brady isn’t as eager to remember his last game against the

Colts.

The Patriots lost 35-34 last Nov. 15 when coach Bill Belichick’s

big gamble failed. Hoping to seal the victory, he went for it on

fourth-and-2 at his 28-yard line, but fell a yard short. The Colts

got the ball with 2:00 left and scored with 13 seconds to go on

Manning’s 1-yard pass to Reggie Wayne. Adam Vinatieri then kicked

the winning extra point.

”I haven’t thought about it at all since probably that game,

since that night,” Brady said. ”I’m always confident that we’re

going to be able to make the play.”

New England and Indianapolis faced each other twice in 2001 when

both were in the AFC East. They didn’t meet in 2002 when the Colts

moved to the AFC South. But they’ve hooked up once in each of the

past seven regular seasons and three times in the playoffs.

One reason for such frequency is that top teams play other top

teams as part of the scheduling formula.

The Patriots won the first six games in the rivalry once Brady

became the starter, but since then the Colts have won five of

six.

”It’s always a great matchup,” said New England wide receiver

Deion Branch, reacquired from Seattle on Oct. 12. ”I think every

year things are totally different.”

Both teams lead their divisions despite numerous injuries to key

players. The Patriots (7-2) are tied with the New York Jets in the

AFC East. The Colts (6-3) lead the AFC South by one game.

”We’ve played most of the games (with the Patriots) in

November,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. ”Both teams have been

playing fairly well at that juncture during past years, and the

games end up being significant games just from the standpoint that

they’re so competitive. It’s still only one game in the grand

scheme of things, but it’s one that is highly competitive.”

Of the 12 matchups starting in 2001, seven have been decided by

seven points or less. The biggest margin of victory in each of the

last four games has been four points.

”I think if you look at most of our games against Indianapolis,

they’ve all been very – most of them – have been very close,

whichever way they’ve gone,” Belichick said. ”I think the overall

competitiveness of the games would, (with) a play or two here or

there, (change) things in a little different direction.”

On Nov. 30, 2003, the Patriots won 38-34 when they kept the

Colts from scoring with a second-and-goal at the 1 with 21 seconds

left.

But on Jan. 21, 2007, the Colts won the AFC championship game –

also 38-34 – when they held on at the end. Brady had moved the

Patriots from their 21 to the Colts 45, then threw an interception

to Marlin Jackson.

The Patriots were 6-1 against the Colts with Branch on the team.

Then they traded him to Seattle and they were 1-4 against the Colts

without him.

”Hopefully, we can go out and rewrite that,” he said.

If not this year, maybe next year.