Players, Coaches Give Little Thought to History When it Comes To Colts-Patriots
INDIANAPOLIS – As Dwight Freeney sees it, history is for the future – for this week, at least.
Freeney, the Colts' five-time Pro Bowl defensive end, said while he has been involved in many games with the New England Patriots – and while he will be involved in another come Sunday – the middle of a season is not a time to consider just what the games have meant.
The middle of a career isn't, either.
What matters this week, Freeney said, is just that:
This week. This game.
"I think once we're done, it's going to be a lot more," Freeney said this week as the AFC South-leading Colts (6-3) prepared to play the AFC East-leading Patriots (7-2) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"Right now, you're in it, and you feel it, but you don't really. Ten years, 20 years removed from this, you'll look back on it and say, 'Wow, that definitely was a rivalry.'
Peyton Manning, who – like Freeney – has played in each of the 10 games the teams have played in the last seven seasons, agreed:
History is for those discussing the game.
For those playing, there's simply no time for such talk.
"I do think every year when you're playing against them that all you think about is this particular year, where we are in the season," Manning said. "It's always been around this time in November, both teams have had good records and playing with a lot at stake.
"I do think after all of us stop playing that you will be able to sit back and reflect on some of the great games and last-minute victories, one way or the other. But we are in the middle of it and it's really hard to think about anything besides the 2010 game for this year."
Said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, "Every week is a big week for us. What we do is try to prepare for the next opponent, and obviously this is one that the competition between the two teams goes back a while, even back in the Baltimore days when they were in the same division. They played each other twice a year, and I'm certain the competition has been keen.
"We've played most of the games in November. Both teams have been playing fairly well at that juncture during past years, and the games end up being significant games just from the standpoint that they're so competitive.
"It's still only one game in the grand scheme of things, but it's one that is highly competitive."
That the teams meet Sunday with each holding at least a share of first place in their respective divisions – the Patriots share first place in the East with the New York Jets – isn't unusual.
Theirs is a rivalry built through a decade of success.
The Colts, who have won 12 or more games an NFL record seven consecutive seasons, have won six of the past seven AFC South titles and have made the post-season an NFL-high eight consecutive seasons. They made the AFC Championship Game in 2003, won AFC South titles in 2006 and 2009 and won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season.
The Patriots, who won six of the past seven AFC East titles, won AFC Championships in 2001, 2003-2004 and 2007, winning the Super Bowl following the 2001 and 2003-2004 seasons.
"It only counts as one game, but it adds a little something," said Freeney, a native of Hartford, Conn., adding with a smile, "I'm from the New England area, so I have to get a victory.
"There's a lot of history. Us and them, what we've done over the last 10 years – we've won a lot of games. There have been a lot of tight games, and it's come down to the last play in a lot of those games.
"Because of that, I think it adds to that special factor of this being a little more special."
The Colts and Patriots, because of the NFL's scheduling system and because each won division titles from 2003-2007 and again last season, have played every regular season since 2003, also playing in the post-season following the 2003, 2004 and 2006 seasons.
The series is tied 5-5 since 2003, with the Patriots winning regular-season meetings in 2003, 2004 and 2007, as well as an AFC Divisional Playoff following the 2004 season and the AFC Championship Game following the 2003 season.
The Colts have won four of the last five regular-season meetings and the AFC Championship Game following the 2006 season.
Six of the teams' seven regular-season games since 2003 have been decided by seven points or less, including last year's game, won by the Colts in Indianapolis, 35-34. The Colts rallied from a 31-14 fourth-quarter deficit in that game, winning when Manning passed one yard to wide receiver Reggie Wayne with 13 seconds remaining.
"I think if you look at most of our games against Indianapolis, they've all been very – most of them – have been very close, whichever way they've gone," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week. "Even if the score doesn't quite reflect that, I think the overall competitiveness of the games would, [with] a play or two here or there, [change] things in a little different direction.
"Our games have been very competitive."
That competitiveness for much of the last decade has been between teams at the peak of NFL success. The winner of the Colts-Patriots regular-season game has made the Super Bowl in five of the past seven seasons – 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
With games being played at that level, Freeney said there is an energy.
"I don't know if it's excitement, but it's a little bit of a feeling inside like tingling – I don't know," he said. "But I know both teams will be well-prepared and ready to have a good game."
Adam Vinatieri, the Colts' kicker the last five seasons, spent his first 10 NFL seasons with the Patriots. He is the only player on either team to have played for each team against the other.
"I do think both teams have a huge respect for each other," Vinatieri said. "They're two teams that have been extremely successful. Both teams have a respect for each other and it should be a fun one. They're at the top of the East and we're at the top of the South, but there's a lot of football to be played.
"It's a big game for a lot of reasons, and to try to get a win is pretty imant."