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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Patriots have the horses

Next stop, Indianapolis. Colts vs. Patriots. The team with horseshoes on their helmets against the team with the horseshoes . . . that always seem to be stashed away for emergency purposes.

As New England's bullet-train bandwagon fires up for a trip to Middle America, citizens of Patriot Nation are a little nervous about the way the fellas have been playing. It seems silly to have any quarrel with a seven-game winning streak and a franchise-best 9-2 record, but there is fear that someday soon the Patriots may run out of miracles.

Then again, why worry? Maybe Tom Brady really is the Joe Montana of the new century, destined to take over down the stretch, run surgical two-minute drills, and always win a game that goes to overtime.

We know this much: New England's defense is Bob Seger Like-A-Rock solid. They may not be the 1985 Bears, but have you noticed that they make every quarterback look bad? Did you see what Quincy Carter did to the Panthers Sunday? The guy who couldn't shoot straight in Foxborough lit up Carolina with 29 completions for 254 yards. Tony Banks completed only 10 passes for 93 yards in five quarters of football against New England Sunday. Need we remind you what the great Donovan McNabb looked like against the Bill Belichick-Romeo Crennel schemes?

This week's game has large playoff implications and might be worthy of the over-hype that preceded the Bill-fest in Foxborough nine days ago. A win at the RCA Dome would be like two wins because if the Patriots wind up tied with the Colts, they would win the head-to-head tie-breaker. This is no small edge given that Kansas City is the only conference team currently ahead of the Patriots (New England beat the 9-2 Titans). The game at Indianapolis will be the last one this year in which the Patriots are underdogs. If they win Sunday, they really could be looking at 14-2. . . .

Picked-up pieces from the dusty trail on a weekend with the Patriots at the site of Super Bowl XXXVIII . . .

* Reliant Stadium is a gem, a most worthy site for the Super Bowl Feb. 1. A lot of Patriot road-trippers were in Texas and a lot of them liked it more than Gillette. Seating is on a vertical slant, keeping fans near the action, even those in the nosebleeds. Everything about the place works.

* When hardly anyone was listening, Brady tucked a small joke into the end of his Sunday press conference, telling us that if you stood Deion Branch and Troy Brown on each other's shoulders, they would not equal one J.J. Stokes.

* Richard Seymour got the braces off his teeth and looks pretty good. He looked even better on the field with four tackles, one sack, and four deflections.

* The Brady-Banks matchup had unusual baseball connections. Both were drafted by big league teams when they were in high school -- Brady by the Expos, Banks by the Twins (he actually played minor league ball with the Twins at Fort Myers for a year). Both hail from high schools that produced great sluggers. Brady went to Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., high school home of Barry Bonds. Banks went to Herbert Hoover in San Diego, which -- as every New England school child knows -- was the school that produced Ted Williams.

* New England has committed only two turnovers at home this year, but 15 on the road. In their two losses, the Patriots committed eight turnovers.

* The Patriots and their fans have to stop thinking that New England's coaching staff is worth 7 points per game. There are good coaches on other teams, too, and it's arrogant to go into every week thinking you are smarter than the other guy.

* The Patriots have lost 11 consecutive coin flips, which runs counter to the theory that New England is merely lucky. The only coin toss New England won was in week 2 in Philadelphia.

* On the other hand, the defensive holding call on Houston's Kenny Wright -- which erased an overtime interception by Texan Marion McCree -- was a cheesy call and a lucky break for the fortunate sons of New England.

* Roger Clemens sat in the Kraft box when the Patriots went to Houston. Wonder if Larry Bird will hang with the Krafts in Indy.

* Sunday marked the first time the Patriots gave up two touchdown passes in a game this season. They'd given up only four all season before playing Houston. They surrendered 23 last year.

* Anybody mentioned Lawyer Milloy lately? The Celtics miss Antoine Walker more than the Patriots miss Milloy. Milloy could wind up being the Shea Hillenbrand of the football season.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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Next game:
Nov. 30 at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 4 Radio: WBCN (104.1)

afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 9 2 0 .818 19.9 15.9
Dolphins 7 4 0 .636 18.3 15.5
Bills 4 7 0 .364 15.7 17.0
Jets 4 7 0 .364 19.1 20.1
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