Losses to Pats still haunt Colts

NFL: To finally reach the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning and the Colts must find a way to end their struggles against the two-time champs.

Pro Football

August 27, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Buffeted by growing speculation his Indianapolis Colts can't beat the New England Patriots when it counts - or any other time, for that matter - coach Tony Dungy drew on a golf analogy to deflect those charges.

"It's kind of like Phil Mickelson, I guess, and how many majors can you be close in and how often can you be ranked in the top five golfers - and not win a major?" Dungy said. "So until you win them, that's what you're going to hear.

"And until we won a playoff game, that was what we were going to hear. Now we're going to hear `until we get to the Super Bowl ... ' "

A perennial runner-up in major tournaments, Mickelson finally won a Masters to chase his detractors, then added the PGA Championship this summer.

The Colts know his pain, but not his gain. Despite having the NFL's Most Valuable Player at quarterback in Peyton Manning the past two seasons, the Colts' Super Bowl dream died each year in frigid Foxboro, Mass., with unsightly losses to the Patriots. One of the league's most prolific offenses managed just 17 points total in those defeats.

It's enough to wonder if there's more than home-field advantage and defensive genius at work there. It's enough to ask if the Patriots, winners of three of the past four Super Bowls, have a psychological stranglehold on the Colts.

The answer that came back during training camp in Terre Haute, Ind., was a resounding no.

"I don't think it's gotten to that point here," wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "Until we can beat them, people are going to ask if they're in our heads. It's a fair question. [But] our goal is not to beat New England; our goal is to win the Super Bowl."

Still, the Colts have lost six straight games to the Patriots, including four in Foxboro. Manning is 1-7 against the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots, with 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

Confronted once again with the specter of the Patriots, Manning doesn't mince words.

"They've been a better team than us the last two years," he said. "They've made the plays and we haven't. We have to give them credit."

Unlike last season, when Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt suggested the Patriots were ripe for an upset, this year's Colts give credit where it's due.

"New England hasn't lost to many people in the last few years," center Jeff Saturday said. "It's not like they're just doing it to us. It's not a mental thing, or that we can't get over the hump. They're a great football team. They've had great teams these last three, four years and that's the bottom line. They've just outplayed us when we've played them."

The Patriots won 24-14 in the 2004 AFC championship game and 20-3 in the 2005 divisional round. The bottom line showed these trends in the two games:

The Colts, who led the NFL with a plus-29 ratio in turnovers the past two seasons, lost eight to the Patriots, who lost a total of two.

Manning threw five interceptions and was sacked five times in the two games.

The Patriots gained more rushing yards in the inhospitable elements, 322-144, running the ball 31 more times.

Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison has averaged 80.5 receiving yards a game in his career, but averaged an indifferent 30 in two games against the Patriots.

The one receiver who hurt the Patriots in 2004, tight end Marcus Pollard (six catches for 90 yards and one touchdown), was held to one catch for 2 yards in the 2005 game.

"I just think the last two times we played them, we just played flat football, we didn't play good," Saturday said. "We didn't come out and execute how we normally execute, we weren't getting the things done we normally do."

"Maybe I didn't do a good enough job," said offensive coordinator Tom Moore.

One thing's for certain: the Colts get another chance to break the spell in the regular season with a Nov. 7, Monday night game in Foxboro. They have played the Patriots - and lost - in the regular season each of the past two years.

Dungy said he isn't bothered by the team's unwanted reputation.

"No, because that is what it is," he said. "People expect a lot out of us. We've done a lot in the regular season. We haven't played as well in the playoff losses. We've played well in the playoff wins. But people expect us to be a Super Bowl contender, so those are expectations we like.

"It's just how you play that particular day. And we've got to get ourselves where we can play a good game, our type of game, in the playoffs."

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