Patriots, Colts succeed despite rash of injuries
One by one, the injuries piled up for the Colts and Patriots.
They might have been enough to ruin lesser teams. They hardly slowed Indianapolis and New England.
Despite key losses on offense and defense, the teams head into Sunday's matchup as the leaders of their divisions.
''When a team battles things like injuries and goes through adversity and they bounce back from it, it shows the character of the team and it shows that unity as a team,'' Patriots cornerback Jonathan Wilhite said.
The Colts lost two dangerous receivers for the season - tight end Dallas Clark after the sixth game and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez after playing just two. Their second leading pass catcher, Austin Collie, missed the past two games but could return Sunday. There's a chance their best rusher, Joseph Addai, will be back after being sidelined the last three weeks.
The defense also has been hit hard. Indianapolis began last Sunday's 23-17 win over Cincinnati without its three opening-day starters at linebacker and safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt.
''Obviously, we've adapted,'' Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. ''We've had some pretty key losses, but we don't use any of that as an excuse. You just have to depend on guys who are next in line to be able to step up and perform, and we've been able to get that for the most part.''
New England's list of significant players on season-ending injured reserve is lengthy - running back Kevin Faulk, defensive end Ty Warren, cornerback Leigh Bodden, safety Brandon McGowan, tackle Nick Kaczur and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Running back Fred Taylor has missed the past six games with toe injuries but participated in practice on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.
''You miss certain guys like that. Certainly, Kevin Faulk - you don't replace Kevin Faulk,'' New England quarterback Tom Brady said. ''I don't change a whole lot of what I do. I'm still trying to make accurate throws and make accurate reads. If I get certain matchups, I take advantage of those.
''Every player that is out there we have a lot of confidence in or else coach wouldn't have them on the team.''
When Faulk suffered a serious knee injury in the second game, the Patriots signed Danny Woodhead, who had been released by the New York Jets. He's done well as a receiver and blocker, two of Faulk's strengths.
The defense has been less successful adjusting to the injuries. New England has allowed the fourth most yards in the NFL and third most against the pass.
Still, the Patriots are tied with their AFC rival Jets and the Atlanta Falcons for the NFL's best record at 7-2. The Colts lead the AFC South by one game with a 6-3 mark.
''When you're coaching a football team, you've got to be prepared for the guys who are taking the most reps, (to not be) taking them. That happens to every team at every position, sooner or later,'' New England coach Bill Belichick said. ''You don't see (it) in a lot of other sports.
''To play 16 regular-season games at this level, as competitive as the National Football League is, stuff's going to happen.''
Jacob Tamme, a fourth-round draft pick in 2008, has been filling in for Clark and has 24 catches. With Addai absent, undrafted Javarris James has rushed for a total of three touchdowns in the past two games.
''It definitely has been a different type of season because of the abnormal amount of injuries we've had and different guys playing,'' Manning said. ''Every week presents a new challenge. We're sort of trying to form the identity for our team that week depending on who is playing.''
With all the injuries, each team has a solid foundation to cope with them - strong personnel departments, outstanding head coaches and star quarterbacks.
''Both teams have the depth and the coaching to make sure you're getting the younger guys prepared or the next guy if somebody goes down,'' Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said. ''Both organizations have been blessed to have good character guys.''
And little tolerance for whining about their misfortune.
''The culture is such that we just don't make excuses for injuries, we don't make excuses for setbacks,'' Caldwell said. ''What we do is try to find solutions and find them in a hurry.''