January 16, 2005
Pats prefer the shadows
Publicity not a priority for champs
By ROB LONGLEY, TORONTO SUN

The odds confirm they are favourites, but the momentum of public opinion has the New England Patriots feeling like underdogs. Peyton Manning this, Peyton Manning that seems to be the tune heading into today's second AFC divisional playoff at Foxboro.

Listen carefully enough and you may believe it -- that Manning and his Indianapolis Colts will end the run of the Super Bowl champs right there on their own messy turf.

Forget the ill-timed words of the opposing kicker as motivation, being the forgotten team is a role the Patriots relish.

"We don't worry about getting publicity," Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said this past week. "Whenever you play Peyton, the whole topic is Peyton."

"That's okay. (Patriots quarterback Tom Brady) is a laid-back guy. He doesn't really care about that. All he is is a two-time Super Bowl MVP."

It's especially okay for a 14-2 team bidding to go to the Super Bowl for the third time in the past four years.

And just fine for players who remember when the St. Louis Rams were 14-point Super Bowl favourites over them and lost outright.

Never one to stir the pot, Manning recognizes his record-setting MVP regular season may as well be history. He is 2-9 in his career against the Patriots and 0-6 in New England.

"The regular season is over and we've had a good run," Manning said. "We made critical plays at critical times but the things we accomplished statistically don't carry weight any longer."

JUICY ANGLES

Can the Colts sustain the run on the road in a frenzied stadium where the Patriots have won 19 in a row is just one of many juicy angles to today's contest.

Can Manning, the master offensive mind, finally outwit the genius of defence, Patriots coach Bill Belichick?

Can the Patriots survive with a banged-up secondary, one which gave up a combined 57 points in back-to-back December games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins?

Can the Colts win away from the warm, dry comforts of their own dome?

Then there is the element of revenge. The Colts feel they were hard-done by in last year's AFC championship game, a 24-14 Patriots win at Gillette Stadium.

Immediately afterward, coach Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian formed a chorus of complaint about the contact the Patriots defenders laid on Colts receivers.

As a result, the league ordered officials to tighten up on contact calls, something that has been done to this point, anyway.

"My question going in is: 'Is it going to be like overtime in hockey or is it going to be like NFL football,' " Dungy said. "Hopefully it will be officiated like football."

An already weakened secondary for the Pats will be even more so with the absence of Ty Law, who intercepted three of Manning's passes in the AFC championship game.

While they expect the Colts to do their thing, the Pats' plan may well be to claim the ground game with Corey Dillon and take control the clock with it. A couple of eight-minute drives culminating in points would do wonders for keeping Manning on the bench and at least harnessing the Colts.

"We want to be physical, control the play and play smart," Pats tight end Christian Fauria said. "Any time you can keep a guy like (Manning) off the field, it is a good thing."

Brady, who has had some erratic moments, including a costly interception in an upset loss to Miami in December, knows he can't do the same against the league MVP.

"You throw one interception against the Colts, it's like throwing three or four against some of the worst teams," Brady said. "They can make you pay.

"When you play a guy like Peyton, you don't want to give the ball any more than he should have it."

To keep the odds in their favour, it's a necessity.


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