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Colts-Pats Is Battle of Division Leaders


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Colts-Pats Is Battle of Division Leaders

By JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Tonight's Monday Night Football game is a matchup of division leaders, with the 7-0 Indianapolis Colts taking on the 4-3 New England Patriots.

The Colts are still trying to prove they can beat a good team this season. The Patriots are still trying to prove that they are one.

The Patriots need to beat the Colts on Monday night to stay above .500 and win consecutive games for the first time all season. The inconsistency is uncharacteristic for the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, who won 21 in a row while taking the 2004 title and lost just two games in each of the last two seasons.

"Well, we're working on it," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It's been frustrating for everybody. It's been frustrating for Coach (Bill) Belichick. It's been frustrating for the other coaches and the players who would love to see us more consistent. ... This is the time of the year where we need to start doing that."

The Patriots (4-3) have alternated wins and losses every game since opening the season with a victory over the Oakland Raiders. The toughest stretch of their schedule has been a five-game span against teams that were .500 or better entering Sunday _ four of them on the road. They went 2-3 in those games.

The Colts (7-0) have had the opposite problem. Of their first seven opponents, only Jacksonville was over .500 entering this weekend and only St. Louis was a playoff team last season.

"For the most part, we haven't played teams with winning records," coach Tony Dungy said. "I look at the schedule ahead and everyone, including me, is saying we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

But Belichick laughed off the suggestion that the Colts' perfect record was somehow unimpressive.

"Every team in this league is capable of winning every week. Just ask whoever you want to ask. You pick up the papers every Monday. Look at the scores," he said.

"It isn't about records. It's two teams that are playing and whichever team plays better, that's the one who wins. It's not what the record is or what the hype is or what the stats say and all that. It's the team that plays better, that's the team that wins. So, what difference does it make what anybody's record is?"

Indy's schedule gets tougher starting in New England, where Peyton Manning has never won. For the Colts, who ended their season in Foxborough in each of the last two years, a victory would mean a four-game advantage over the Patriots in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

"When you're playing a team like New England, who is going to be there in the postseason, this is a great test to see what kind of team you are," Manning said. "When you play against a good team, you sort of see where you stack up. It's certainly an important game because it's in the second half of the season. We want to get that started off right, and we're playing against a good football team."

But, Freeney noted, "You never know what can happen."

"The Patriots might not make the playoffs, who knows?' he said. "They may make the playoffs and get knocked off in the first round. They might not even see us. You never know what's going to happen."

Avoiding a trip to New England in January would do wonders for the Colts' Super Bowl aspirations. The Patriots have not lost a playoff game since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002 and are 26-4 there overall.

But the Patriots haven't lost a road playoff game since then, either. So Dungy knows that even if the Colts do win on Monday night, it's no guarantee the Patriots' dynasty is over.

"To think that, 'Boy, if we win this game, all of our problems are solved,'" he said, "that's a little bit simplistic."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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