INDIANAPOLIS – Dwight Freeney has made some deep footprints in his 10-year NFL career.
Many of those footprints have come in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks. A large number of the time – 99.5 to be precise – he has been successful.
Freeney, a six-time Pro Bowl choice who leads 2011 AFC vote-getters at his position – will be returning to his home area of Connecticut this weekend for his 11th career meeting with the New England Patriots.
Though he has traveled the league and the globe, been a part of seven division-winners, two conference champions and won a Super Bowl, Freeney still gets a charge out of returning to his home area.
"Always. It's New England, I'm from Connecticut," said Freeney. "For me, it's not a home game, but it feels good to be going back and having the bragging rights for the year, if you win. It's definitely something that feels good (playing in home area)."
Freeney has started 11 games this season and 125 of his 144 career appearances since being the club's top choice in 2002. He opened his career with 13 sacks as a rookie and is the leading sack artist in Colts history. Seven times he has amassed more than 10 sacks in a season, the best in club history, and he shares the club lead with Robert Mathis at 5.5 this season.
The Syracuse product took down Carolina quarterback Cam Newton last Sunday to come within a half-sack of 100 for his career. Newton was the 48th different quarterback he sacked. Freeney can become the 26th player to reach that plateau on Sunday at New England. Should it come he would be pleased, and it likely would be against Tom Brady, a player he initially faced in college. That possible moment and the prospect of facing Brady again is something Freeney enjoys – both for the opportunity to play the sport and to face one of the game's all-time bests.
"It would be great," said Freeney if the occasion of his next sack occurs on Sunday. "I don't know if that's going to happen on Sunday, if that's going to be my 100th versus him. We'll see what happens there.
"He's a real, special player. Players like that don't come along that often. His career is indicative of that. You see the numbers he puts up. You see the respect he gets across the league. He's definitely a talent. It's definitely going to be a challenge."
This will be Freeney's 11th career outing against New England. The Patriots are one of 26 teams against which Freeney has recorded a sack. He has gotten to Brady three times, a number that points to Freeney's talent, plus Brady's ability to operate a potent offense without having many negative plays.
Freeney knows what he will be up against Sunday with a New England attack that has hit 30 or more points in the last three games and eight times overall this season.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge," said Freeney. "New England hasn't changed as far as them not being themselves. Brady is kind of controlling that offense. They're doing a great job of execution. They throw the ball a lot. They throw it quick. Sometimes, they take their time. Sometimes, they block seven guys on four, sometimes they don't. It's going to be interesting. They're definitely showing signs of (the) New England of old, kind of dink-and-dunk and throwing that ball."
Brady is hitting 65.8 percent of his passes (277-of-421) for 3,627 yards and 28 touchdowns. His lofty 105.1 rating is second in the league. The offense ranks second in the NFL at 429.5 yards per game, and it is converting 45 percent of its third downs.
Freeney plays for an organization that has put its players in position to succeed for years, despite this year's difficult times. He recognizes that in the Patriots as well.
"Absolutely. I think they do," said Freeney about New England utilizing its talent. "The Patriots have been doing it for a very long time. We've done it for a long time. Obviously, this year is a little bit different, unfortunately. Every team has a down year. They had a couple of down years when they didn't make the playoffs. … They definitely put their players in great positions."
Matching wits with New England means facing Head Coach Bill Belichick. Freeney holds Belichick with the deep regard he does for Brady.
"He's (Belichick) another guy who doesn't come along very often," said Freeney. "He's his own kind of guy, love him or hate him. One thing he does is produce wins. He has a lot of winning seasons. He comes up with great schemes to put his players in the best position to win. Obviously, you see that year in and year out, the records they have and the type of things they can do."
Observers around the team have asked players if they believe the Patriots are looking forward to playing Indianapolis because of this season's struggles. Without bristling, Freeney responded.
"I think they have kind of the same philosophy that we have," said the six-time Pro Bowl choice. "It doesn't matter what our record is, it doesn't matter, you're going out there and preparing for this particular team as if it's the biggest game of the year. I know I've heard them talk about it. I know I've played against them. I understand that is their mentality. They're not going to lay down. They're going to come out there full force.
"I think defensively whenever you step on the field, I don't care what it is, we take everything kind of personally, 'What do you mean you're going to score 17 points? No, you're not.' That's our mentality. … Obviously, they score points, and they score them in bunches. We're not laying down for anybody. We're going to go out there and continue to play hard."
Freeney and his defensive mates will be working under new defensive coordinator Mike Murphy, who succeeded Larry Coyer this week. He noted the move along with others and just points to Sunday. It is all a player can do.
"It's definitely a surprise," said Freeney. "We don't normally do things like that. We're never in situations where we even have to think that way, but this is the National Football League and these things do happen. We're just going to keep trucking along. Whoever's the coach we'll go out there and try to execute the game plan.
"I don't know what it's (the game plan) going to be. It's hard to change a whole, entire defense. Now if it was the off-season, we'd have three or four months to put it in, install it, kind of get whatever terminology (is needed to communicate). It's kind of hard to do that in the middle of the season. I think there's going to be a little bit of the old stuff, maybe – maybe alignment, maybe a blitz. It (the change) just happened a couple of days ago. Maybe this week we don't change as much as he (Murphy) may want to change. We're taking it one day at a time right now."
Freeney is an avid golfer. In future years when that sport likely is his greatest passion, he knows where he will rank his times against New England as he considers his most memorable opponents.
"It probably will be (number) one, I'll be honest with you," said Freeney. "Just the history, especially for me, I go home (to Connecticut) to that stuff. I go home and the whole state is New England Patriots fans, the other half is Giants and Jets. It's like you have to go home and you have to hear it. All the meaningful games, very meaningful games either win or loss, it's just been great memories, and so much you're going to remember."