Patriots-Colts a heavyweight bout

Dungy likens game to Ali-Frazier

teams avoiding verbal jabs

November 02, 2007|By David Heuschkel | David Heuschkel,HARTFORD COURANT

Foxborough, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk described the atmosphere in the locker room as a soap opera as the NFL's best two teams prepare to meet Sunday.

Using a boxing analogy, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy compared the league's best rivalry in recent years to a much-anticipated heavyweight title fight.

There are a number of aspects that make it unique, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't in the mood to come up with any.

"It hasn't been that special the last three times we played them," Belichick said, referring to three straight losses to the Colts, including an excruciating one in the AFC championship game in January in Indianapolis.

When the Patriots and Colts resume their rivalry at the RCA Dome, the game between the only remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL is being billed as the greatest regular-season matchup ever. Dungy likened it to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier getting back in the ring.

The Colts are the Super Bowl champions. The three-time champion Patriots are considered by many as the best team this season and possibly the greatest ever.

So which team is which fighter?

"I think we're Frazier," Dungy said. "I think we're the young, up-and-coming team against the champ that has really set the bar. That's the guy that everybody has looked at. So we've got to do a little more. We've probably got to try to win by a knockout."

As expected, neither Dungy nor Belichick has thrown verbal jabs this week. But most are anticipating plenty of punching and counterpunching on the field because both teams are loaded on offense.

But Belichick might have felt that he already took a shot from Dungy earlier this season. In the aftermath of the Patriots' videotape spying controversy, Dungy compared the public bashing that Belichick took and the skepticism of his three Super Bowl titles to what Barry Bonds went through in his pursuit of the home run title.

The topic was brought up again this week, and Dungy said he doesn't regret evoking Bonds' name.

"That was my opinion at the time, and that's what I believed," Dungy said. "Again, I don't think it takes away from anything that they've done. It's just disappointing that it wasn't a good situation for the league or any of the players in the NFL."

Belichick might use that and recent accusations that he's running up the score on opponents as further motivation for his team.

"I think most people try to," Dungy said. "You try to take everything that happens, and if you can kind of tip it to motivation for your guys, you're going to do that. But ... when we play each other, they're always big games. ... I don't think anything that goes on outside the football field is really going to have that much effect."

The Patriots have been particularly dominant in the first quarter this season, outscoring opponents by a combined 79-7. They also have scored an NFL-high 86 points in the fourth. They have already scored more points (331) than 17 teams did all last season and have more touchdowns (43) than 24 teams in 2006.

"I don't think what happened last week or two weeks ago has a lot to do with this game," Belichick said. "It will come down to the preparation that the two teams have and how the two teams perform on Sunday."

David Heuschkel writes for The Hartford Courant.

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