INDIANAPOLIS – A quarterback who grew up watching Peyton Manning and Tom Brady now is starting his second game in the rivalry those two players helped make famous.
How much does that storied past count right now?
“It’s a fun storyline but for us in the locker room, it’s just a chance to go up to New England and play a very good football team in the playoffs,” said
The Colts and Patriots met annually from 2003-12, a span that included Luck’s rookie year, and Saturday’s game means the series remains intact.
“We’ve seen a lot of the Colts through the years,” said Bill Belichick. “They were formerly a division team, but it seems like they’ve never really left the division. One way or another we’ve kind of gotten them every year.
The point-blank Patriots coach has matched wits with three Colts field leaders during that span. Chuck Pagano is the most recent, and he agrees past games have no relevance.
“It really isn’t (relevant), to be honest with you,” said Pagano. “We know them, they know us from an organizational standpoint. They’ve got what they’ve seen on tape from this year.
“There’s been so much turnover. In today’s NFL, that’s kind of how it is. I don’t see how much effect it’s going to have on this game.”
Only 10 current Colts pre-date Pagano’s 2012 arrival, with only three having played in the playoffs against New England before.
Only three Patriots have met the Colts in post-season before and with Tom Brady being one, that has helped push questions from the past to the present.
“You’re going to cover your bases and look at the tape, evaluate it, try to find the mistakes and good things you did,” said Pagano. “Then you look at the tape from this year. We’re a different team; they’re a different team in certain areas. There’s probably a carryover system-wise, scheme-wise, philosophy-wise (and) concepts.”
After leading consecutive touchdown drives to start last November’s game, Luck had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Saying last week before the Kansas City game that converting red zone chances was key, he reiterated sharpness is necessary in a foreign environment.
“You can’t turn the ball over against a great team like the Patriots,” said Luck. “They do such a good job of creating a turnover and then scoring. It’s points and before you know it (and) you’re down.
“(We have to) take care of the football, get first downs. If you have a chance to score seven (points), you’d better take advantage of it because they do a great job in the red zone.”
Luck allowed last year’s game, though instructive, has no bearing on Saturday’s divisional match.
“It (the history) matters very little,” said Fleener. “I think in any playoff game you throw out the records, you throw out the history. I’ve never played the Patriots before, personally. To me, I’m excited for the opportunity.
“(It’s an) impressive history, but it won’t have an impact on how we game plan and play on Saturday.”
Pagano missed last year’s game, too, while recovering from leukemia. Add him to the number of Colts with post-season experience in New England, though that has no bearing as well.
Pagano was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator in a 23-20 last-minute loss in the 2012 AFC Championship game where an end zone pass broken up preceded a missed field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
“Close but no cigar,” said Pagano when asked to recall the contest. “It was a great ballgame. We just didn’t finish it. They made more plays than we made.
“We had an opportunity right at the end. I saw a ball in a guy’s hand and thought we had a touchdown for the game-winner and a guy made a great play and popped that ball out of Lee Evans’ hand. A field goal that went wide left and the rest is history.
“I guess had we won that game, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Pagano and the Colts hope to be the last men standing Saturday night.