INDIANAPOLIS –Linebacker Dwight Freeney has made some footprints in his 11-year NFL career, and he likes when his playing path leads toward home.
Freeney will be playing in his 13th overall game against the Patriots on Sunday. Nine previous meetings have come in the regular season, while three have come with post-season marbles on the line.
As Freeney steps onto the Gillette Stadium playing field on Sunday, he will be approximately 110 miles from his hometown of Bloomfield, Connecticut. This will be his eighth time playing in Foxborough, and the series has the feel of a divisional opponent.
"It does. It's like they might as well (be)," said Freeney. "We play Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee twice, and we used to see these guys twice all the time."
Freeney was referring to playoff battles that happened after the 2003, 2004 and 2006 seasons, games waged in addition to regular season action. All those helped make the Colts-Patriots one of the NFL top rivalries for years. Freeney will be one of only 18 Colts who have played in this series before. Mostly, this team has new faces.
"It's a little bit different now," said Freeney. "Obviously, we have a different coaching staff here, so they haven't seen them as often as I have and some of the older guys. We're definitely familiar with them. (There have been) a lot of dramatic games. They had our number. We had their number. We had to get through them to win the Super Bowl. There are a lot of memories there."
Freeney has produced three of his 104.5 career sacks against New England. He has chased quarterback Tom Brady for years. Just as Freeney has aged well, he believes Brady has done the same.
"He's definitely a guy out there that is leading his team like always," said Freeney. "You would think the older you got, your skills start to deteriorate, but he's still as accurate as ever. He leads that team. He's one of the best quarterbacks to ever play. It's going to be a tough challenge."
Freeney has been playing through much of the season with a high ankle sprain incurred early in the opener. Only recently has he been able to show some of his classic moves. Though three of the four sacks Indianapolis had at Jacksonville came from the secondary, interim coach Bruce Arians said Freeney was a menacing presence.
"Dwight was all over the place. His numbers weren't big, but he had a huge impact in that game. The sacks were coming from everybody," said Arians.
Indianapolis has seen a number of younger quarterbacks this year, facing seasoned performers only about half the time. Freeney thinks that has impacted how quickly opponents are throwing against the team's 3-4 hybrid defense.
"These last four or five games we played, if you watch the game and not look at the stat sheet, they're literally getting rid of the ball under three seconds, maybe in two-and-a-half seconds," said Freeney. "For an end to get there and the ball is gone under three seconds, you pretty much have to be untouched. I haven't had the numbers I wish I did, but it has a lot to do with what they're doing also.
"We've been seeing a lot of running teams and when they're passing the ball, it's, 'Whoosh, get rid of it.' The numbers will come when they come."
Freeney has played on eight teams that made the playoffs. Last year was a sobering 2-14 experience. This year's 6-3 record has been built with new leadership and teammates, something Freeney appreciates.
"It has been a real fun run so far. To see the new faces and who is going to step up this week (is fun)," said Freeney. "Hat's off really to the upper management we have, picking the right pieces to the puzzle and getting this thing pulled together. We have guys going down with injuries and you get guys off the street who haven't played and they're going out there and making plays left and right, diving over things. It's fun."
Indianapolis is looking for its first five-game winning streak since 2009. Freeney says going from 2-3 to 6-3 says something about the team.
"It says we're a team that is going to fight. We don't really pay attention to what everyone says outside," said Freeney. "It's what happens inside these walls on a day-by-day basis. All the sacrifices and the time you take to study the film and your opponent. You see the benefits on Sundays. That's really what it says about what hard workers we are."
As for the series and Foxborough this Sunday, Freeney likes the "buzz" his home area presents.
"For me, it does (add to the feel)," said Freeney of playing in Foxborough. "I get to talk a little trash, a little bit. They talk more trash back. It's fun."