By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 09, 2005

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You come to Foxborough in January, you lose. Simple.

Only the Houston Oilers in 1978 can say that they came to Foxborough and won a playoff game. But that win had extenuating circumstances, in that the Patriots were saddled with a lame duck coaching situation. Chuck Fairbanks was ditching the Patriots in favor of the University of Colorado, and the Patriots were easy pickings for the Oilers, 31-14. The Patriots have not lost at home in the playoffs since then.

Now in 2004, the defending Super Bowl champs will be asked to try and once again beat the Indianapolis Colts without both starting cornerbacks. Patriot Nation can now sit back and dream of matchups that will likely feature Eugene Wilson on Marvin Harrison, Asante Samuel on Reggie Wayne, and Randall Gay on Brandon Stokely.

And don't forget about the slot cornerback, who is also the team's best slot wide receiver.

Which all begs the question: Has the "Law" of the land in Foxborough changed? How in the world will the Patriots deal with all these talented Colt receivers with both Ty Law and Tyrone Poole watching helplessly on the sidelines? How will Peyton Manning feel about getting to dissect a Patriot defense minus the man who picked him off three times a year ago in the AFC Championship Game?

Those of you who held out faint hope of Denver upsetting Indianapolis in the Wild Card round can wipe the egg off of your faces and brace for an offensive onslaught at Gillette Stadium next week. The Denver defense looked like boys out there instead of men on Sunday at the RCA Dome, Jake Plummer looked like the most overrated quarterback in the NFL, and Indianapolis duplicated their 2003 thrashing of the Broncos in 2004, winning 49-24 and advancing to this rematch against the team which knocked them out of the playoffs last year.

How badly will Manning want to win this game? This may sound like a foolish question, as any NFL player wants to win a playoff game badly. But this is a case where Manning is dealing with two very important issues here, those being his own personal legacy, and the common belief around the NFL that Bill Belichick owns Manning, as if he has set up his own personal office inside the league MVP's head.

In this case, "badly" might be replaced with "crazily". "Obsessively". "Fanatically". You might be able to find more descriptive and colorful adverbs.

You might think that the pressure in this game will be with Belichick and Romeo Crennel, as they will be charged with stopping Manning minus their two best cornerbacks. These brilliant head coaches have managed to guide the Patriots to an 8-1 record since Law went down with his broken foot injury in a 34-20 loss at Pittsburgh on Halloween. Three of these wins were against the high powered offenses of Kansas City, St. Louis and Cincinnati. The wins in Missouri were both on the road. Being on the road won't be a problem next weekend, but it at least warrants mention.

In all three of those wins, the Patriots merely outscored their opponents and played just well enough defense to win the game. At St. Louis, Belichick flat out outcoached Mike Martz. At Kansas City, Dick Vermeil had a fish in Earthwind Moreland, but he never fully exploited that matchup with Eddie Kennison. Only some costly turnovers prevented Cincinnati from possibly pulling off the mother of all upsets. In each case, the defense stepped up when it had to and did exactly enough to help the Patriots come out on top.

If there is any pressure in this game, though, it will be squarely on Manning. Simply stated, he has to win this game. If he still can't beat Belichick with the depleted Patriot secondary, Manning will never live it down. Manning wants to be the next Joe Montana, not the next Dan Marino. This pressure that will be on Manning represents the best chance for the Patriots to win the game.

What you will have next weekend is a Colt team which will still be tormented from last January's loss here at Gillette Stadium against the smartest team and coaching staff in the last 40 years of pro football. The likely result will be a high scoring affair, as the Patriots won't have a problem moving the football on the suspect Colt defense (Corey Dillon should ensure that the offense scores touchdowns instead of field goals like last year). Tom Brady will likely be bracing himself for something similar to the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVIII, where he and Jake Delhomme engaged in the most dramatic shootout in Super Bowl history.

What you the Patriot fan hope you see is that Belichick and Crennel outsmarted Tony Dungy and Tom Moore (Colt offensive coordinator), and came up with a scheme which will thwart Manning in his attempts to get into a rhythm and run the high-octane Colt offense smoothly. This is a team which at times lined up against Miami with five linebackers, six defensive backs and no down linemen. Don't expect something as radical as this, but expect something which Belichick knows that Manning will not be able to deal with or figure out.

And by the same token, sooner or later Manning will need to overcome this perception that he can't beat Belichick or the Patriots, especially on the road. Manning will have a time this week studying game film and tendencies of the Patriot defense, but he will know deep down inside that all the studying he does may still not be enough. He has to know that Belichick will come up with something he simply cannot study for.

However, if it turns out that Wilson, Samuel and Gay simply cannot physically stop the Colt receivers, Brady will have to ready himself for a pure shootout. And if the Patriots are forced to rely heavily on Moreland and Troy Brown for clutch secondary play, Brady will have literally zero margin for error. It will be a tough job if Brady is forced to score a touchdown on every drive, as the Patriots are more into methodical football versus explosive football on offense. The game may hinge upon every time Hunter Smith has to punt, or how many times the Colts have to bring out Mike Vanderjagt.

One thing Indianapolis likes to do, and Belichick should be able to account for this, is their usage of Edgerrin James when the defense is overloading on the pass. In last year's AFC title game, Moore came out featuring the run to start the second half and scored a quick touchdown. But Moore never went back to featuring James the rest of the way, and Manning could not deliver the goods.

The Patriots would like to work their magic on the Colts, then stand by and root for the Jets to upset Pittsburgh and cause the AFC title game to be played in Foxborough for the second straight year. The Jets' season continued thanks to the fact that Marty Schottenheimer can't coach worth beans in the postseason, as his Charger team gagged at home in overtime to the Jets on Saturday, 20-17. His hideous play calling late in overtime gave Nate Kaeding a hard-to-make field goal; predictably, the Jets made Schottenheimer pay after the 40-yarder was shanked wide right.

So, here we go again. Patriots-Colts at Foxborough. Belichick the alchemist will be tested once again, ready to show the world that brains beats brawn any day.

And to show once again that no matter the circumstances, the Law in January in Foxborough remains the same.


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