Showdown showcases QBs

While Brady, Patriots have history on side, Manning has Colts unbeaten this year

Because this is not a playoff game and both teams already have commanding leads in their respective divisions, the game does not matter much. At least it’s not a must-win situation. Which means the Indianapolis Colts have a chance.

You see, when it is a playoff game and when much is riding on the outcome, it’s the New England Patriots who come out on top. New England ended Indianapolis’ season two straight years, in 2003 and ’04.

For a time, Pats quarterback Tom Brady couldn’t lose to the Colts. For a time, Pats coach Bill Belichick couldn’t lose to Indy’s Tony Dungy. And for a time, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning couldn’t win in New England.

That all changed last season when the Colts beat the host Patriots 40-21. They didn’t meet in the playoffs, but the way both teams are playing this season, it could be an early preview of a much larger game.

Last season, don’t forget, New England stumbled into this game with a 4-3 record. The Patriots look much different these days. Brady is playing like he usually does, which is why the Pats have won four straight in convincing fashion.

In the past four games, Brady has completed 78 of 125 passes for 895 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Tight end Ben Watson leads the Pats with 28 receptions. But here’s a guy who sums up their team: Receiver Doug Gabriel has 20 catches and three touchdowns. He has never caught more than 37 passes in a season. And rookie running back Laurence Maroney, who splits time with Corey Dillon, has added a major spark.

Defensively, the Pats remain formidable thanks to a healthy pass rush. End Jarvis Green already has a career-high 5½ sacks. End Richard Seymour is always disruptive.

That defense will be challenged by the undefeated Colts, coming off a stirring win at Denver. In many ways, Manning has never looked better. He has a 108.0 passer rating with 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has thrown for seven scores the past two games.

Receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are a formidable tandem and rookie running back Joseph Addai continues to improve. The problem for Indy is the defense. It has struggled to stop the run; Denver’s Mike Bell had 136 yards on only 15 carries last week. If that continues, another New England streak will begin Sunday.

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