At 1-3, the Indianapolis Colts are heading into Foxborough to face their long-standing rivals, the New England Patriots. Much has been made about the rivalry and whether one actually exists. For some, the only way a rivalry exists is if recent games have been competitive or if two teams go back and forth. While this one way to view things, I think ignores reality.
In reality, the New England Patriots have ended the Colts preseason hopes 4 times. Twice during the Peyton Manning era and twice during Andrew Luck’s career. The early contests included a league wide review and emphasis placed on pass interference and illegal contact penalties after the Patriots secondary mugged Colts receivers on their way to victory in 2003. In the 2004 playoffs, Peyton Manning threw 4 interceptions and still had a chance to win the game late but couldn’t get the job done. In 2013, the Andrew Luck-led Colts played the Patriots tight in Foxborough for three quarters until the wheels fell off. A 21 point fourth quarter was a statement win for the Patriots and Luck struggled with four interceptions. The next year, the Patriots soundly defeated the Colts in the AFC Championship on a wet and rainy evening that spawned the Defategate controversy, brought the team under investigation, and resulted in Tom Brady’s suspension.
In 2006, the Colts put together the biggest comeback win in AFC Championship history for the right to play the Chicago Bears, ending in the team’s first Super Bowl championship in Indianapolis. In fact, there was a period from 2005 until a regular season game in 2010 that the Patriots did not have a win against the Colts. During that stretch there was the “4th and 2” regular season game in Indianapolis that left a bad taste in the mouth of Patriots fans and left coach Bill Belichick looking human.
Just this off-season Colts General Manager Chris Ballard offered the head coaching job to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who accepted. After reaching the agreement and announcing the move, McDaniels backed out and stayed in New England. He abandoned his own hand-selected coaches and once again drew the ire of Colts fans around the world.
I would most certainly call the relationship between the Colts and Patriots a rivalry. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a bitter rivalry. No matter how competitive the recent games have been and no matter how long the winning streak is, there is no other game in the entire season that means more to Colts fans, other than the Super Bowl, than beating the Patriots. Similarly, Patriots fans have numerous reasons to dislike the Colts fan base and they look forward to these games and hope to crush their opponent.
What will it take for the Colts to come out on top today?
Big Games from Small Names
The Indianapolis Colts are heading into this contest with a ton of injuries. Can Zach Pascal continue to step up with T.Y. Hilton out of the game? Will Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers fill the production void that is left in Hilton’s absence? Will rookie Braden Smith have a positive impact on the offensive line with an injury to Joe Haeg landing him on injured reserve and a horrible death holding Denzelle Good out of the contest?
Andrew Luck is going to have to take control of the offense and put the team on his back to get the ball moving and score enough points to keep up with the Patriots.
The New England Patriots have had a long history of doing enough to keep pressure out of Tom Brady’s face. This has played an important role in his success. When he does have pressure baring down on him and is forced to move out of the pocket, he becomes more pedestrian. He certainly won’t be running away from anyone.
Facing the least mobile quarterback the team has faced all season, the speed on defense has to pay off in a big way. Big hits and continual pressure could force Brady into some costly mistakes that turn the outcome of the game.
The Colts cannot afford to give Tom Brady and the Patriots extra opportunities. This means that Luck must continue to be very efficient and extend his streak of passing attempts without an interception. This means that goal line fumbles and strip sacks are not an option. If the Colts can win the turnover battle and not give the Patriots offense extra chances, they could pull out an important road win.
Limit Rob Gronkowski
There is no offensive weapon for New England that is consistently more dangerous than Rob Gronkowski. One of the major points of emphasis and reasons the Colts went to a defense that includes more speed and athleticism is the ability to do a better job of defending the middle of the field in the passing game. On Sunday, Deshaun Watson had a field day picking apart the heart of the defense. Tonight, Brady can’t be able to do the same by picking Gronkowski in favorable coverage over and over gain.
This has been a struggle for much of the season. There has been too much reliance on Andrew Luck’s arm and it has been too easy for defenses to pin their ears back to come after the quarterback. It could be ever more difficult tonight with key injuries on the offensive line but finding a way to get the committee of Turbin, Wilkins, and Hines going enough on the ground to keep Belichick and his defense honest will be important.
8:20 PM ET on Thursday October 4th, 2018
Gillette Stadium - Foxboro, Mass.
Fox and NFL Network - Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (color), Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink (sideline)
Amazon Prime Video - Hannah Storm (play-by-play) and Andrea Kremer (color)
WFNI (1070 The Fan) and WLHK (HANK FM) — Matt Taylor (play-by-play), Jim Sorgi (color) and Caroline Cann (sideline) | Westwood One — Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Tony Boselli (color)