By: Bob George/
January 14, 2005

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FOXBOROUGH -- There's no truth to the rumor that Bob Vila will be added to the Colt payroll.

What: AFC Divisional Playoff
Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Sunday 1/16/05
4:45 PM EST
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 930
2004 Team
Patriots 14-2
Colts 13-4
Latest Line: Patriots by 2
His job? Simple. Inspect visiting fields and report any problems to the league office. This naturally follows a protest from the Colt front office that the Patriots illegally made the playing field too tilted to their advantage on Sunday. In 2003, it was defensive holding beyond the five-yard limit. Now in 2004, it's too much of a muddy field.

After Super Bowl XXXVI, Ty Law said "I ain't never seen anyone win a 100-meter dash with someone standing right in front of them!” After Sunday's game, Eugene Wilson will probably say something like "Ain't nothing like mud to slow a fast receiver down!” To which Colt GM Bill Polian will probably say how illegal it was to let the field go like that on purpose.

Nothing will be said about the great defensive effort, one of the finest in league history, which is what it will take for the depleted Patriot defense to overcome the best offense in the league. All that will be said is that the Patriots cheated by allowing their field to become a quagmire, and it was all done on purpose. Bill Belichick says he isn't a weed puller, and Polian will accuse him of being disingenuous.

This is how Patriot Nation pretty much hopes Sunday will turn out. Lousy weather, lousy footing, Patriots win.

Of all people, Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star took the side of the Patriots on this issue. He said the Colts have no right to complain about the conditions of Gillette Stadium and its playing field. His explanation? If the Colts want to do something about home field, go earn it. Beat the Patriots in the regular season and get the playoff game at RCA Dome. Sounds like a plan, if only the Colts could have pulled it off (the Patriots registered regular season wins against the Colts last year and this year). What the field condition does is give the Colts a built-in excuse if they lose, but Kravitz is right on. The Patriots have home field, and intend to make the most of it.

It will naturally take more than just being at home for the Patriots to win and move on to Heinz Field (presumably) for the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots will get perhaps the stiffest test of all from a team they usually handle pretty well in general, and incredibly well at home. Colt fans don't like Patriot fans bringing up the poor Colt record at Foxborough in recent years, but facts are facts. The difference this time is that the Colts have their best chance in the Peyton Manning era to come out of Gillette Stadium victorious on Sunday.

All it is is a chance, and the Patriots still hold a lot of upper hands despite the key injuries to their defense. But for the Patriots to win on Sunday, certain things have to break their way. Should they not, and should Manning finally play like he does against the rest of the league, Patriot Nation will be in for a most disappointing evening on Sunday.

In January, football players play football

Bill Parcells made up this statement, but the Patriots have followed this principle all year long, and not just in January. When you see Richard Seymour blocking, Mike Vrabel catching and Troy Brown intercepting, you are seeing this principle in its highest form.

This is not to say that Adam Vinatieri will come in and play linebacker, although he is arguably the best tackling kicker in the league. What it does say is that the Patriots will do absolutely everything humanly possible to win the game. This sounds like the understatement of the year, but it takes on much more meaning when you see the Patriots actually do it, and it turns out to be key in victory.

Given the situation with the defense and its injuries, the Patriot players will in the long run do more to win the game than the Colts will. Whereas the Colts will have an edge in some areas on paper, generally on offense, the Patriots will more than make up for it in intelligence, anticipation and execution. No more will this be needed than when the Colts have the ball on offense, and the patchwork secondary will have their most difficult assignment since Super Bowl XXXVI.

Whatever the game plan is, whatever the game situation is, the Patriots will know better what to do, and will have more resolve to get done whatever needs to get done. Trying to introduce specifics into this discussion really isn't necessary. The reason for this is coming up later on in this article. You'll know it when you see it. This is to say that the players will know what to do and will do it.

Big numbers or big wins? No contest

It is very hard for Colt fans to accept the fact that Tom Brady has been a more successful quarterback than Manning. This is not to condemn Manning, nor begrudge his obvious talent. It is to shine the proper light on Brady's talent, and what he has been better at over the last four seasons.

You cannot ignore facts, plain and simple. Manning has been the specialist at big numbers. Brady has been the specialist at winning, and especially winning big games. Brady has two Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVPs. He is undefeated in the postseason as a starting quarterback. He is 28-4 over the past two regular seasons and 48-14 in his entire regular season Patriot career. Manning cannot match any of these stats, and one has to wonder if Manning would trade his regular season MVPs and his touchdown record for even one of Brady's rings or Cadillac Escalades.

Manning is more than able to make lots of hay against lots of weak sister defenses around the league. Brady doesn't match Manning's numbers because he doesn't have to. You win by outscoring your opponent, and often times Brady plays just well enough to win at the expense of big passing numbers. Charlie Weis won't turn Brady loose and get him to throw for 450 yards passing when only 250 are needed to win.

What Manning must prove is that he can overcome all obstacles needed to become a champion. The Patriots are an obstacle which he has yet to master. As long as Manning keeps giving everyone the impression that he cannot solve a Belichick defense, nothing will change and he will once again walk off the Gillette Stadium field a loser.

On the other hand, unless Brady reverts to his late game form in Miami, he will make the plays needed to bring the Patriots home. Against a subpar Colt defense, he won't have a problem putting points on the board. Working in conjunction with this likelihood is a turnover-free game which Brady absolutely must have.

Simply stated, Patriot Nation has never felt uncomfortable with Brady at the helm, and nobody out there will doubt his ability to rally the Patriots to victory, if that responsibility falls on his shoulders. Manning, on the other hand, will have to be preoccupied with the specter of never beating a Belichick defense. Maybe this is the time he finally does. And if that be the case, he will deserve nothing but high praise.

Team MVP? Look To Corey

This should turn out to be, in the long continuum of time, the best trade for the Patriots since Y2K.

Finally, Curtis Martin was replaced, and how. Corey Dillon set a Patriot record for yards rushed in a season with 1,635 yards. He is in a region which has fallen in love with him, with a team he truly loves being with. Now, here comes the first of many games which bears out why the Patriots got this guy.

In a game where Manning needs to be on the sideline watching as much as possible, Dillon becomes the offensive key for the Patriots. This becomes even truer if field conditions are as sloppy as predicted. Dillon must be able to gain tough yards and eat up as much clock as possible. An Internet poster suggested that the Patriots run right at Dwight Freeney, just like they ran right at Julius Peppers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Tire Freeney out, so that his pass rushing skills will be neutralized.

Dillon will have done his job if the Patriots win the time of possession battle decisively. It won't be because he broke Tony Collins' single game rushing record. The more Manning stays on the bench and freezes up while doing so, the better the Patriots' chances to win the game. Dillon may wind up with a big game anyway, but in this case the Patriots need long drives that eat clock, not 85-yard scoring drives in one play, an 85-yard touchdown run by Dillon.

Tell us what to do, coach, and we'll all do it

Here is where the Patriots have their absolute best chance to win this game, or any game. Excuse us if we have said this before.

Belichick will take his players and load them up with every conceivable way to upset Manning and the Colt receivers. He will tell them how to deal with Edgerrin James and how much, if at all, he will be allowed to run wild at the expense of shutting down the passing game. He will have designed the best defenses possible to confuse Manning and to punish his receiving corps, like he has done so many times over the years.

His players will take their "football players play football” mentality and make it all work. It will come off as the most recent "impossible task made possible” which Belichick has done so many times in his career. Whether it be six-man secondaries, five-man linebacker corps, two-man front lines, or something totally off the wall, Belichick will have developed the exact right game plan based upon the personnel he has on Sunday.

Again, this is why trying to discuss specifics is pointless. Nobody knows what Belichick will do. Nobody can predict what Belichick will do. Included among those who won't know are Manning and his teammates and coaches. Only the Patriot players and coaches know what will go down, and hopefully one of the things that go down will be Manning's battered body, and his aching receivers as well.

What this comes down to is the players, as well as the fans, simply having faith in the greatest head coach in the last forty years to simply do what he does. Given all the parameters that exist, Belichick is the one man who can make something out of nothing. And in this case, "nothing” was still good enough to go 14-2, a fact that cannot be ignored by those who predict a Colt win.

Home, sweet home comes through once again

Many NFL aficionados think that Gillette Stadium is now the toughest venue to win for a road team. This week is reinforcing that viewpoint in many ways.

Weather reports vary regarding Sunday. Some say partly cloudy, some say snow flurries. All of them say highs in the 30s, lows in the teens. With the rain this week, Gillette Stadium was left uncovered, allowing to soak up as much water as possible. NFL rules say that the field must be covered 24 hours prior to kickoff, but an NFL representative sent to Foxborough to inspect the field gave it the clean bill of health (you might recall that a year ago, the field was ordered resodded prior to the AFC Divisional Playoff game versus Tennessee).

It is no secret that the Patriots are playing the gamesmanship card to the hilt here. They are trying to get the field as slow and as sloppy as possible for Sunday, in order to help their crippled defense by slowing down the speedy Colt receivers. As was stated earlier, it's the Patriots' home field, and they are merely taking advantage.

The final ingredient of the game Sunday is the role of the fans in the outcome. Vinatieri challenged the fans to be as loud as possible. The loud crowd noise will be a detriment to Manning as he tries to call audibles at the line of scrimmage. The crowd can also lift up the home team, and in Gillette Stadium, it usually happens. The Patriot players spare no expense in showing their appreciation for the inspiration the fans provide.

Add all this up, and the Patriots should win once again. It will take flawless execution of whatever Belichick gives them. But they have proven time and time again that they know how to win in the playoffs, and they know how to deal with Manning and the Colts. And until Manning proves otherwise, it is pointless to expect anything other than a Patriot win.

And as long as Indianapolis has to come to Foxborough in January instead of the other way around, they do indeed have no gripe.