By Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff
So, that's it then. Number four, is it?
No jinx here. It's a virtual certainty that the Patriots will beat the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night in the AFC Championship Game, and then will roll over whichever NFC entry for yet another Super Bowl title, if only for the pure reason that it's what they do. How else can you explain whatever happened on that San Diego field yesterday?
It's January, and the Patriots win, no matter what. I apologize for the simplistic and admittedly clichéd reasoning behind this, but this is clearly more than a case of X's and O's working in their favor. Although, I suppose it doesn't hurt to have a bonehead like Marty Schottenheimer on the other sideline.
And so, now it is the showdown that everybody predicted might come about after the Patriots fell hard to the Colts in a 27-20 Nov. 5 loss.
Maybe this time, Indy fans can pray. Maybe this time they can get by the Patriots.
Maybe. But not likely. And I'm only saying that to be nice, because there's really no chance.
I'm most looking forward to seeing whom Peyton Manning throws under the bus Sunday night. The Colts QB has been unspectacular in playoff victories against the Chiefs and Ravens, but his defense -- yes -- has been the Colts' savior -- yes -- holding opponents to 14 total points in two playoff games. Maybe he goes all out and blames the loss on Tony Dungy. Who knows?
But let's back up on that defense, dead-last against the run during the regular season and seemingly come out of nowhere this month. The Kansas City Chiefs not only employ Herm Edwards as their coach, but they came into the playoffs with by far the weakest scoring offense of all the entrants, and Baltimore was not far behind. The offenses of the Colts and Patriots finished the regular season 2 and 3, respectively, in the AFC, just behind the now-eliminated Chargers.
This won't be just a game, but an exorcism, writes Bob Kravitz in today's Indy Star. This time the ghosts that have haunted the Colts' Super Bowl dreams are coming to their house.
Isn't this the way it's supposed to be, anyway?
Isn't this what Dallas had to do, finally getting over on the powerful Green Bay Packers?
Isn't this what San Francisco had to do, beating that same Dallas team with the famous pass to the corner and Dwight Clark, setting up their Super Bowl runs?
If the Colts want to be the best, they've got to beat the best.
The Star's Mike Chappell simply calls it the "most important football event that's ever visited the Circle City," with a bevy of story lines. Brady vs. Manning, Belichick vs. Dungy, and, oh, yeah, you think the kickers might come up once or twice this week?
The last time the Patriots visited the RCA Dome, it resulted in a classic 38-34 2003 win in which Willie McGinest stuffed Edgerrin James at the goal line in the closing seconds. That win was the difference between the Patriots hosting the Colts in the AFC title game and having to return to the turf. It's the same deal in 2006, the Colts' November win the deciding factor in which guys had to hop a flight.
Here we are, three years later, and many of the names have changed. Jerseys have been swapped. Brady continues to build on his legend, and Manning continues his legendary assault at being known as the guy who simply could not get it done. Let's just say he's had some problems with [insert excuse here].
He has another shot Sunday at his nemeses, but we all know this is going to end like it always does. The Colts wanted this game, of course, not only for the home field advantage factor, but because they have something to prove, and what better way for them to stick it to the Pats than in taking away New England's right to the Super Bowl with their Super Bowl hero in tow, nonetheless.
"It is looking suspiciously like a New England-New Orleans Super Bowl -- with Schottenheimer on the outside looking in," writes Mike Penner in the Los Angeles Times. "And there's absolutely nothing new about that."
Nope. This is just what happens. When's the parade?