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Sweet spot is found

Colvin back in position to taste some success

FOXBOROUGH -- ''Cotton Candy Colvin" never appeared in headlines, but Rosevelt Colvin has been doing sweet work in NFL stadiums for years.

His latest effort came just last week, as his sack of Kelly Holcomb, forced fumble, and subsequent recovery was the key play in New England's 21-16 win over Buffalo.

That is the type of play Colvin made with regularity when his star shined brightly with the Chicago Bears (1999-2002). That is the type of play for which the Patriots invested some $25 million to bring the pass-rushing linebacker in as a free agent in 2003. And that is the type of play he hopes to make the remainder of the season, which continues tomorrow night when New England faces Indianapolis.

It is also the type of play Colvin dreamed of making when he was supposed to be busy selling cotton candy in his first job at the then-Hoosier Dome in his hometown of Indianapolis. Line up enough of the sticky sugar treats to handle a rush . . . rush to the steps to watch a few plays.

Colvin's head is into preparing for the Peyton Manning-Edgerrin James-Marvin Harrison Colts; his heart used to be into the Jack Trudeau-Eric Dickerson-Billy Brooks Colts of the late 1980s.

Like Patriots fans who remember their whereabouts during the Snow Bowl, Colvin remembers when he was 11, standing on the concourse and enjoying Indianapolis rolling up 55 points -- the most ever scored in a ''Monday Night Football" game -- against Denver on Halloween in 1988. And he remembers the heartsick feeling he experienced while driving back to school at Purdue, as he listened to the Colts come up short against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game Jan. 7, 1996.

''The Colts were everything to me," Colvin said. ''I was there when it was . . . I don't want to say when it was real, but that's my childhood. That's what I grew up on.

''I've been a Colts fan all my life, and it kind of stopped when I was drafted by the Bears."

And, for the most part, the good times on the football field stopped when he left the Bears to sign with the Patriots. Two games into a season in which many expected Colvin would become a superstar, he suffered a hip injury that required surgery and nearly a year of rehabilitation.

Colvin returned last season, but not to form. Limited mostly to spot duty, he never had more than five tackles in a game, and finished with only five sacks. He had 10 1/2 sacks in each of his last two years with the Bears.

Colvin had a single tackle in the season opener, only two stops in Week 2, and just two more tackles the following week, as he was used mostly on third down in long-yardage situations.

But the last few weeks, Colvin has started to make plays. He has averaged six tackles a game in the last four contests, and he has two sacks in the last three. The increased production has come with more opportunities. When the Patriots finally moved Mike Vrabel inside, something that was worked on in training camp, Colvin moved into the starting lineup.

''I'm actually starting to feel like I'm playing my game more -- as advertised when I showed up here in '03," Colvin said. ''Once you're able to be more comfortable, once you get more reps at doing what you're asked to do, you feel more comfortable in the games. That translates into being more physical, more aggressive, and making more plays."

Colvin says the hip injury is behind him.

''I think physically he's good," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ''But, just getting the reps, again, playing in a little bit of a different system than what he played in at Chicago or even in college. Early last year was the first year that he did it. This is his second year, and as that has gone on it's gotten better. I think he has gotten more confident in what he has to do."

In the Patriots' system, Colvin is asked to do much more than he was as a Bear, when he had fewer responsibilities and room to do more free-lancing.

Colvin (2 1/2 sacks this season) said playing within the defensive scheme and doing his assigned job is more important than personal glory. At times, he says, he has to have the mentality of a sixth man in basketball.

''I can't play Willie [McGinest's] spot. I can't play Vrabel's spot. I can only do what I can do and what's asked of me," he said. ''If they ask me to force it, then I'm going to force it. If I'm asked to be inside, then I'll be inside. If I'm asked to rush the passer, then I'll rush the passer. I just have to take what my coaches give me as a game plan and take that out on the field and try to execute.

''Your duty as a professional is to be ready." Midway through the fourth quarter against Buffalo, the Patriots did a late shift, moving end Jarvis Green inside a slot, giving clearance for Colvin to rush Holcomb. Bills guard Bennie Anderson was so late stepping outside, all he could do was pat Colvin on the back as Colvin passed by. Sack, fumble, New England ball. Soon thereafter, victory.

Colvin hopes to get that opportunity against Manning and his hometown team. If he does, not all of his friends will be happy.

''The city, they want it bad," Colvin said. ''The success of the team is good for them. But right now I'm with the Patriots and I'm going to do what I can to make the city of Indianapolis very upset."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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