by Dan Snapp
I know what you’re thinking: “How good could Peyton Manning be if he had Tom Brady’s weapons?”
It’s gotten that ridiculous.
Suddenly the Patriots offense is the Colts of 2004, the Rams of 2001, the Vikings of 1998. They’re perched to set new standards of achievement, both individually and team-wise. Along the way, let’s hope they keep in mind what else those teams had in common.
The Patriots and the Colts need each other. With the rest of the league unwilling to offer up some real competition, the two squads are all there is to keep the season from devolving into some bad joke.
The Jets were supposed to be the AFC East challenger to the throne, but they punted that title away long ago (and they can’t even do that right, if Ben Graham’s 20-yard shank Sunday is any indication). The Cowboys were played up, complete with “The Next Favre” billing for quarterback Tony Romo, but the Pats dispatched that empty threat in short order. The Chargers relinquished their “elite” status when they fired Marty Schottenheimer.
So that leaves just the Patriots and the Colts. Like the Red Sox and the Yankees perennially, like the Celtics and 76ers of the early ’80s, they’ll feed off each other, always aware of the other’s spot in the standings, and always having the prospects of future meetings haunting some passage in the back of their minds.
It’s a matchup we should root for.
We should want both to be undefeated going into their November 4th matchup, and for both to win out after the meeting, in anticipation of their eventual playoffs tilt. With home-field advantage in the balance, every game would have meaning.
Of course, that would mean one achieves the coveted 16-0 record. All the more motivation for the other to try to knock them off in the playoffs. Imagine the thrill of denying a team that just completed a perfect season their shot at the title?
Sports memories linger longest and age best when marked by some adversity overcome, some threat averted. With the passing of years, the details of the blowout get lost, but the tiniest minutia of the last-second win gets stored away forever.
Quick, which of the Pats’ Super Bowls do you remember best? Likely the first, with the surprise of the early lead, the powerhouse Rams clawing back, and then that sublime final drive. The next one was memorable in its own right, what with the surprising resiliency of the Panthers right to the end.
Yet somehow, it’s toughest recalling the details of the most recent title, the win over Philly in 2005. There was the 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles taking their own sweet time driving with time running out, but none of the vivid-like-it-was-yesterday snapshots the first two titles offered.
How about this one: do you remember better the finer details of the Red Sox’ 2004 championship series win over the Yankees, or their subsequent sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series? Pretty easy call there.
For the truly memorable events, you have to confront the monsters: The “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams; Derek Jeter’s Yankees; Magic Johnson’s Lakers. The bigger and badder, the better.
Fortunately, the Colts are as big and bad as you can get. They have the most accurate quarterback in the game, killer receivers, a dangerous tight end, a shifty back and a line that seemingly can guarantee seven yards every time they run that damn stretch play. Their defense is quick to the ball, and apparently no longer a running game patsy.
Most importantly, they’re not the old Colts, the ones you could count on to run up the score in the regular season and then choke it away in the playoffs. They finally got smart, starting to take what defenses were giving them at the expense of their personal stats. In essence, they became the Patriots and won a title.
So now the tables have turned, with the Pats offense making a Manningish run on the record books. They’re even looking Colt-like on defense of late, with the three-score victories allowing for a little lax play.
That’ll be the best result of facing Peyton Manning in two weeks. The Pats need it to sharpen their senses again, to be reminded just how good they need to be to get past these guys.
The Colts being great is a good thing. Beating their asses just wouldn’t be as much fun, otherwise.