"OK, so the Chargers were pretty damn good yesterday," said a commenter at Kristen's on Monday, "But I know, I KNOW, that part of the cause of Peyton's happy feet, jittery eyes and flop-sweat slicked hands was seeing the Bucs put up a big doughnut at Foxborough.
"He knows it's coming. The pain's coming."
And it's true that, whether spoken or not, the thought has at least crossed virtually every football fan's mind this month, the thought that a truly apocalyptic Colts-Pats matchup may actually take place this year, a matchup that would surely go down, regardless of outcome, as an offical Game for the Ages (tm).
The rivalry between the Colts and the Patriots is already germinating at an astonishing rate given the vagaries of the salary-capped, parity-friendly NFL. It hasn't quite hit Red Sox - Yankees proportions yet, but it has the potential to do so. Key to the rivalry's ascension to epic status would be a matchup in 2005.
This is because the matchup between the teams would be more even than at any time in recent memory, conflations and non sequiturs by the national sports pundits in past years aside. In the past, the Colts got lots of (undue) attention for a glitzy offense; this year, they have the defense to back it up. That, and not their 13-0 start against a mostly pathetic schedule, is what makes them a true threat this year.
Meanwhile, the Patriots' rocky road early in the season and question marks in the secondary have brought vulnerability to what had been an insurmountable obstacle for the Colts' pass-happy offense in past years.
Add to that a hobbled Brady, a Colts team that just had its win streak snapped, the weight of history in favor of the Patriots and a Colts team that no one seriously believes will be denied forever, and a head-to-head matchup this postseason, which would have to come in the second round, is enough to make any "right-thinking football fan", as TMQ would say, salivate.
If this matchup occurs, and the Colts win, they'll have finally gotten the monkey off their back in a big way--facing down their chief nemesis for the right to finally go to the Super Bowl where, as in past years, the AFC will almost undoubtedly dominate. If the Colts are able to finally overcome the Patriots, they'd be all but wearing Super Bowl rings.
If this game happens and the Patriots win, they'll have knocked off the pretenders to the throne despite a season full of maximum hype for Indy--and may finally put Brady / Manning comparisons to rest once and for all. And they might be on their way to an historic three-peat, which, when you consider the way this season started, would be an absolute miracle for the history books.
FootballOutsiders' analysis of the Colts-Chargers game highlights a number of the vulnerabilities in the Colts that it exposed, and all of them are gaps into which many New England strengths fit quite nicely. Particularly this one:
The Indianapolis offense is a timing and precision offense. The offensive line is only forced to hold blocks for a short period of time before Manning gets the ball out to one of his talented receivers. San Diego’s pressure coupled with aggressive, physical man-to-man play by their cornerbacks completely upset the timing of the Colts offense. The much-maligned Chargers secondary is vulnerable if the pass rush fails to materialize — the Colts did complete five passes over twenty yards — but no receiver got behind the defense for a quick-strike touchdown.
The obvious comparison with the Patriots is not lost on FO:
The Patriots sport a similar active front to the Chargers, and with their recent play, a potential second-round match-up is very intriguing.
Still, they proclaim the Colts "still the best team in the league" and seem to feel they'd still dispatch the Patriots.
Granted, you have to take my opinion as a New England fan with a generous helping of salt (perhaps a whole shaker), but I have to disagree.
Because at the end of the Chargers / Colts game, I saw something that made me smile.
4th quarter, Indianapolis behind 19 to 17--the game still in reach. Peyton Manning drove all the way down to the San Diego 23, and it looked like Indianapolis was coming back. Even if there'd been no gain on the next two plays, they'd have been well within Vanderjagt's range, and could have gone ahead, 20-19.
What happened next, though, was the best demonstration of why I'm not going to buy into the Peyton Manning hype until his "greatness" is proven to me otherwise: Manning, being rushed by the aforementioned "disruptive" SD defensive front, threw to nowhere, and was tagged for an intentional grounding penalty, taking it from second and nine well within striking range to 3 and 21 just outside it. On that 3 and 21 play, Manning was sacked for another loss, forcing an Indianapolis punt.
It was that intentional grounding penalty, I maintain, that cost Manning the chance to remain perfect--and the mentality that caused it, an impatience, an unwillingness to take a sack, and most of all a breakdown in mental discipline, that's still Manning's most crippling flaw, one that is undiminished by this season's record, and one that both he and his team will have to overcome if they're to finally reach the Promised Land this season, whether or not they face the Patriots in the process.
So far, especially while watching the Chargers game, I have seen nothing that convinces me this flaw in Manning has been solved.
Don't agree? That's ok. But for just a moment, please seriously consider a scenario in which Tom Brady, two points behind in the fourth quarter of a crucial game, deep in his opponent's territory, suffers a mental lapse of that magnitude.
Can't do it? Neither can I.
But no one's going to realize this, especially not on the national stage, until and unless a side-by-side demonstration happens. A postseason matchup this season might just prove to be the evidence that settles the Manning-Brady debate once and for all. That's why I hope it happens. That's why, if you're a fan of either New England or Indianapolis, you should hope it happens, too.