“It is just another game. “
“You go into every game wanting to win.”
“No, I don’t think we’ve treated this game any differently than any others on the schedule. “
These are the lies you can expect to hear from players and staff in the next two days before the Colts kick off Thursday Night Football against the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Sure, like most lies, there are shades of the truth in them.
You do go into every game wanting a win, and ultimately it isn’t a game of more significance in terms of this schedule or the way that playoff spots are handed out at the end of the season. At 1-3, there is little doubt that any game the Colts played this week would be of pretty great importance. However, if you think for a second that inside West 56th Street the Colts are treating this “just like any game,” you’re kidding yourself.
The Patriots have been a stumbling block for the Indianapolis Colts since the Manning Era. During the 2000’s, the Patriots held the edge in their meetings with 8 wins to the Colts’ 6. It took Peyton Manning leading an epic comeback in the RCA Dome to get the Colts to a Super Bowl they would go on to win.
Even back then, the Patriots owned the “rivalry.” With the arrival of Andrew Luck and a head coach who hailed from the Ravens, a team that had consistently given the Patriots trouble, Colts fans hoped we might be looking at an end to the one-sided affair.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. In the five meetings between the Colts and Patriots since 2012, the Patriots have averaged 44.6 points per game. The Colts? Just 20. Chuck Pagano proved out of his depth. The defense couldn’t stop the Patriots and the offense couldn’t move the ball. The last time the Colts beat the Patriots on the road was twelve years ago, when the Colts and Peyton Manning were in their prime.
Anyone who has ever played or coached a sport knows how significant the mental aspect of the game is. It is why we are spending so much time listening to the Colts talk about building a culture in their building. Because mentality, attitude, and team chemistry are often the difference between being a really talented team and being a championship team.
How can the Colts adopt a winning mentality so long as the specter of the Patriots hangs over them? That’s what makes this game so important. The old Colts have always struggled with the New England Patriots. The new Colts under Frank Reich want to forge a different path, one that leaves that old struggle behind.
To do that means facing down their demons. It means climbing out of the pit they were kicked down into, walking into the house of the enemy, and punching them in the mouth. It means gutting out a win, whatever it takes.
The staff will be motivated. We all know the story of how rising star defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus came to arrive in Indianapolis. It seems clear that this was good fortune for both he and the Colts, but there will be no love lost for the Patriots’ slimy offensive coordinator who orchestrated his hiring before bailing on the job.
The defense will come to play. Frank Reich has already proven himself capable of outmaneuvering the Patriots’ defense, albeit with a healthier and overall better cast of players on offense.
Chris Ballard set the expectation in his mic drop walk off after the press conference following the McDaniels’ news.
“The rivalry is back on.”
Simple words. They caused a plethora of reactions. Eyebrows were raised. Some scoffed. Others applauded. None of the reaction really matter that much, though, unless you back it up.
Of course, Ballard was stating his intention to compete at the highest level. He wasn’t saying that he expected the Colts to go out and thrash the Patriots every time they play, but you can believe that is what he wants his team to do on Thursday night.
He’d like them to show Josh McDaniels what a bad decision he made to back out of that deal. He would like to show the NFL that he wasn’t messing around when he said those words. Most importantly of all, he’d like to see this team claw its way out from under the crushing weight of a fading giant and make its mark on the league as a team on the rise.
To do so would be to take the first step to freeing this organization and its fan base from that feeling of fear and dread that comes from playing the Patriots. It takes a win against them before the Colts can start thinking of the Patriots as “just another opponent.”
That’s why no matter what they say, this is not just another game.