A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the New England Patriots
Synopsis: The Colts on Sunday night will play a second consecutive prime-time, nationally-televised game and for a second consecutive week, the opponent is a familiar one.
This week's opponent? Longtime AFC rival New England.
The Patriots, the defending AFC champions and the five-time defending AFC East champions, have played through injuries and adversity throughout the season, but after seven games, they are again in a familiar place:
Atop the AFC East.
With quarterback Tom Brady, who last season set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes, out for the season since Week 1, reserve quarterback Matt Cassel has led the Patriots to victories in four of his six starts. Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school until this season, has thrown for 1,362 yards and seven touchdowns.
This past week, he threw for a career-high 267 yards in a victory over St. Louis.
"They've done a pretty good job at moving the football through the air," Colts President Bill Polian said. "Matt Cassel has done a nice job there. They still have (wide receiver Wes) Welker. They still have (wide receiver) Randy Moss. They still have very good tight ends. They have a very well-coached offensive line. The area that has been hurt in addition to Brady has been the running game, where (Laurence) Maroney went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and Sammy Morris has been dinged up a little bit. We won't probably know until game time whether Sammy can play or not.
"That leaves (Kevin) Faulk and BenJarvis Green-Ellis, who's a very hard running rookie out of Mississippi to carry the running load. Faulk is a very good draw, screen, third-down catching back and a very explosive guy who has hurt us in the past.
"It's a formidable offense still with lots of weapons."
The Patriots have dealt with injuries other than that sustained by Brady and Maroney, the team's leading rusher last season. Safety Rodney Harrison – long one of the NFL's best at his position – is out for the season with a quadriceps injury.
"They'll concede nothing and be prepared for everything, so it's a very tough matchup," Polian said. "They never beat themselves. They don't commit penalties. They don't turn the ball over. They don't make mental errors. That's a credit to their coaching staff and Bill Belichick.
"They're well-prepared and they play as well and as efficiently no matter who's in there as any team in the National Football League."
The Colts and Patriots have been regular opponents in recent seasons, playing at least once annually every season since 2003. In the last three seasons – as is the case this season – the game has been played the first weekend of November, and with the exception of last season, the game has been played in prime time each season.
Since Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy's 2002 arrival, the Patriots have won five of eight meetings between the teams, with the Patriots winning regular-season meetings in 2003, 2004 and last season and the Colts winning in the regular season in 2005 and 2006.
The Patriots won postseason meetings following the 2003 and 2004 seasons, with the Colts beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game following the 2006 season.
"It seems like this is a division game going back to all of the games we have played against them in recent years," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "We have a lot of respect for the Colts - Tony Dungy, (President) Bill Polian, the organization and what they do and how well and consistently they do it. I know it will be a dynamic atmosphere up there Sunday night, a lot of noise, a lot of energy [and a] new stadium.
"I am sure it will be very challenging for us and hopefully we will be prepared, up for it and ready to go. It will take a lot of work this week."
2008 Record: 5-2, T-1st in AFC East.
Head Coach: Bill Belichick, 9th season as Patriots Head Coach (96-39, 110-42 including playoffs) and 14th season as NFL Head Coach (132-83, 147-87 including playoffs).
Last game: Playing after a short week following a 41-7 victory over Denver the previous Monday night, the Patriots were without running back Laurence Maroney, safety Rodney Harrison and quarterback Tom Brady, all of whom are out for the season with injuries. Still, they rallied from a 16-13 fourth-quarter deficit for a 23-16 victory at home over St. Louis. Quarterback Matt Cassel completed 21 of 33 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 19th (320.1 yards per game); Rushing, 6th (130.4 ypg); Passing, 23rd (189.7 ypg); Defense – Overall, 14th (319.6 yards per game); Rushing, 20th (113.3 ypg); Passing, 15th (206.3 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer: Matt Cassel (131-199 completions, 1,362 yards, 65.8 pct., 7 TD, 6 INT, 84.6 rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): Sammy Morris (69 carries, 307 yards, 4 TD), Kevin Faulk (36 carries, 212 yards, 2 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): Wes Welker (49 receptions, 466 yards, 1 TD), Randy Moss (32 receptions, 471 yards, 4 TD).
2008 Leading Sacker(s): Adalius Thomas (6), Richard Seymour (5).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Plus-3 (12 forced, 9 committed).
First-round draft choice: Jerod Mayo, linebacker. With the 10th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected Jerod Mayo, a linebacker from the University of Tennessee.
Mayo (6-feet-1, 242 pounds), the only rookie to start the regular-season opener for the Patriots, has started all seven games this season at one of the team's two inside linebacker seasons. He has 48 tackles.
He was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection last season.
Key free agents acquired: Sam Aiken (Buffalo), WR; Lewis Sanders, CB;
Key free agents lost: Randall Gay (New Orleans), DB; Asante Samuel (Philadelphia), CB; Donte Stallworth (Cleveland), WR; Eugene Wilson (Tampa Bay), S.
2008 Review: The Patriots, after the NFL's first unbeaten regular season in 35 years a year ago, extended their regular-season winning streak to 21 games by winning their first two games this season before a 38-13 loss at home to Miami in Week 3.
They followed a Week 4 bye week with a victory over San Francisco before a 30-10 loss in San Diego on October 12.
That moved the Patriots to 3-2, but they dominated the Denver Broncos, 41-7, on Monday Night Football the following week before rallying to beat the Rams this past week.
Last time in Playoffs: 2007.
Last time in Super Bowl: 2004.
Super Bowl Championships: 2001, 2003, 2004.
2007 Pro Bowl Selections: Tom Brady, QB; Randy Moss, WR; Matt Light, OT; Logan Mankins, OG; Dan Koppen, C; Vince Wilfork, DT; Mike Vrabel, LB; Asante Samuel, CB.
Quotable I: "You always want it better. We have been spoiled around here a little bit. The way I look at it is we are starting to make better decisions. I know I am making better decisions in the run blocking. It seems like we are doing better things as a team. Position wise, we are only good as long as we keep getting better: 5-2 is nice but it really doesn't mean much right now. November and December . . . 10-2 would be lovely but hopefully we can get to 6-2."
--- Patriots Fullback Heath Evans
Quotable II: "We're all playing a football game. We're getting ready, we're preparing each week and we're doing what we have to do. Collectively, we can always get better if we continue to build each week and we don't slip. We had a great performance a week ago [against Denver], we came out here and had a dogfight tonight, but we played for 60 minutes. We had guys that hustled and finished plays."
--- Patriots Offensive Tackle Matt Light