Manning: New England Big Because It's the Next Game
INDIANAPOLIS – The series, without a doubt, has been big.
It is that way now, and has been that way for much of the last decade.
But Peyton Manning, the Colts' 13-year veteran quarterback, said while that much is true – and while there again will be plenty of attention when the Colts play the New England Patriots this week – something else is equally true for the Colts this season:
Every game is big.
And that, Manning said, is how the Colts will approach this year's version of Colts-Patriots.
Big? Yes. Just not overwhelmingly so.
"It's a great rivalry – there's no question about it," Manning said as the AFC South-leading Colts (6-3) prepared to play the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (7-2) at Gillette Field in Foxboro, Mass., Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"It really has been like a division game. We've played them every year since 2003 – a couple of times twice a year. There's no question it's a big game, but it's really big because it's the next one.
"The middle of this season is competitive within our division. We want to try to keep winning games."
The Patriots, AFC East Champions six of the last seven seasons, have won six of their last seven games, and are tied with the New York Jets for first place in the division.
The Colts, AFC South Champions six of the last seven seasons, have won six of eight games since a season-opening loss at Houston. They lead the AFC South by a game over Tennessee and Jacksonville.
"It's two great teams," Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden said. "It's two teams who have won a whole lot of games the past decade, and doing the right things and winning the right way."
The Patriots this season have stayed atop the East despite the loss of wide receiver Randy Moss, traded to the Minnesota Vikings in early October. The Patriots' offense has continued to play efficiently, having immediately traded for veteran Deion Branch – the Most Valuable Player of the 2004 Super Bowl for New England – after Moss' departure.
This past Sunday, the Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 39-26, to remain in a tie for first.
"It's going to be a great challenge," Manning said.
"They are very talented and performing extremely well," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said.
The Colts, who have won 12 or more games an NFL record seven consecutive seasons, have emerged this year as a division leader despite a slew of injuries. Tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and safety Melvin Bullitt are among eleven players on injured reserve, and in a 23-17 home victory over Cincinnati this past Sunday, the Colts were without linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session, as well as wide receivers Austin Collie and Blair White.
Starting running back Joseph Addai also missed the game, as did third-team running back Mike Hart.
"We're trying to get a little better each week, understanding that things might not be picture perfect – that it may be a two-yard gain here or a five-yard completion there that you have to be happy about," Manning said. "It doesn't mean lowering your expectations. It just means that we are somewhat in a transition process with some of our new players."
Jacob Tamme has caught 24 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in three games starting for Clark, and second-year running back Donald Brown has rushed for 100 yards on 27 carries in the last two games. Rookie running back Javarris James has rushed for three touchdowns in the last two games.
Wide receiver Brandon James, signed from the practice squad last week, caught four passes for 36 yards against Cincinnati.
"We're really working hard to get on the same page with some of our new guys – you can still have some offensive production," Manning said. "It does take a lot of work, a lot of preparation – a lot more than you would normally have to do because you're spending extra time working some of these new guys. It is kind of a grind, if you will, but it's certainly well worth it when you come out with a win.
"It definitely has been a grind from a preparation standpoint. There certainly have been some major injuries, but even some of the replacements have been injured. The challenge has been getting on the same page not necessarily knowing who's going to be available that week.
"You have to do it, and other guys are stepping up at different times."
Manning said at times the changes have required him to be more patient.
"I try to remind myself of that," he said. "I don't always follow through, but I think you have to (be patient), just knowing that we have some new guys. . . . Every week there is something new, so you do have to be patient and understand that there are going to be some adjustments and maybe some storms you have to work through.
"If you can work through, and at the same time get a win and realize we are making some improvements in certain areas, then that's a good thing."
And Manning, like Caldwell has said the past several weeks, said the reality is while the Colts have dealt with injuries, few teams in the NFL haven't been faced with such issues.
"I kind of respond to questions about injuries, but you do get tired of talking about it, because everybody's dealing with it," Manning said. "Ours have just come at not the best times, I guess. When you have had some of the replacements getting injured, that has been a little bit of a wrinkle, but you have to find a way to deal with it.
"Adjusting is the main thing. Certain guys are hard to replace, but you do have to adjust and find a way to try to get a win. It's going to take everybody doing their part to find a way to get a win, but I do think saying we're going to go blow somebody out may not be as realistic as just saying, 'Hey, find a way to hang in there and make a play in the fourth quarter to get a win.'