THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Coach downplays this one? Perfect

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 5, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - After 60 minutes of blood, bones, and thunder . . . after one of the great gut-check, come-from-behind wins in the history of New England sports . . . Patriots coach Bill Belichick stood at the podium here last night and deadpanned, "This was a football game against the Colts. That's all it was."

Right. And the Pieta is a nice little ceramic statue. And Mozart's 40th Symphony is a catchy little ditty. And "Hamlet" is just a play in which a young prince tries to avenge his father's death and winds up dead himself.

Coach Hoodie doesn't get to downplay this one. In a wire-to-wire battle of unbeatens, without doubt the most-hyped regular-season joust in NFL history, the Patriots scored 14 fourth-quarter points to walk out of the RCA Dome (most likely for the final time) with a 24-20 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Colts.

And so now the record is 9-0 and there is a bye week ahead and most Patriots fans are spiraling ahead to Jan. 20, when there's a good chance the 17-0 Patriots will play host to these Colts in the AFC Championship game in cold, snow-crusted Foxborough, Mass.

It makes no sense for the Patriots or their coach to talk about the NFL's first unbeaten season since the 1972 Dolphins, but after what we saw yesterday it's impossible not to look ahead. Look at the rest of the schedule and try to find a game the Patriots can lose. If not the Colts, whom? If not yesterday, when?

Certainly injuries, flukes, and other acts of God are potential landmines in the road to perfection, but yesterday's demonstration against the Colts figures to deflate the rest of the NFL and ignite three months of speculation that we might be watching the best football team of all time.

It's odd to say those words because the Patriots could be back home today with an 8-1 record, trying to explain how they lost four games to the Colts in 24 months and fretting about the prospects of playing in Indy again for the AFC championship.

But that didn't happen. It didn't happen because these Patriots never take the apple, they have the best coach, the best quarterback (it was not an easy day, but Tom Brady won the War of 18-12 against Peyton Manning and should get his own overture), and the best wide receivers in football.

This is where we start to talk about one Randy Moss. He caught nine passes against the Colts, including his 12th TD of the season (tying a franchise record). He was the difference-maker. His catches totaled 145 yards and made it easier for the likes of Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth, and Kevin Faulk. His TD was one of those jump-ball specials, and he showed us his patented one-handed grab - looking like Julius Erving doing one of his cradle dunks - on a crucial catch over the middle in the third quarter.

The Patriots lost the AFC Championship game in Indy last year because Brady did not have a threat like Moss. Now they do and woe is the rest of the league.

"Everything that's been written and said about him - he's been the complete opposite," Brady said again yesterday. "He's been a great teammate."

And a monstrous asset.

The Patriots had scored a whopping 149 points in their previous three games and offended a good part of Football America, running up the score on the hapless Redskins at Gillette last weekend. New England scored on its first possession in each of its first eight games, pummeling opponents by an aggregate 79-7 in the first quarter.

It was clear this wasn't going to happen in the ninth week when the Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession and failed to score in the first quarter. Joseph Addai's 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half put New England in the position of playing from behind, something it hadn't done all year.

"Those [blowouts] didn't help us any today," said Brady, wearing a Hugh Hefner-esque crushed velvet jacket.

The QB entered the game with 30 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, but his invincibility was punctured by a pair of picks, one in each half.

New England trailed, 20-10, when Brady took over on his 27 with 9:35 left in the fourth. That is when the clutch pills and Super Bowl memories kicked in. The Patriots marched 73 yards on seven plays, including a 55-yarder to the redoubtable Moss. It took only 1:43 to cut the lead to 20-17. Then came a Stonehenge stop in which the Patriots leaned on their experienced linebackers. When Brady got the ball back on his 49 with just under four minutes left, you knew the Colts were doomed. The Dome, which sounded like the tarmac at Logan on Friday afternoon for most of the day, went silent.

Brady. Faulk. Touchdown. Onward to XLII in Glendale, Ariz., for a date with the NFC Tomato Can Feb. 3.

If you saw the Patriots trotting into their locker room, you would know that despite Belichick's claim, this was far more than "a football game against the Colts."

Veteran Tedy Bruschi, who was here with Bill Parcells way back in 1996, said, "Some victories do feel better than others. This is one you'll remember. Last year we didn't accomplish the mission here. This year, we did. We've played in a lot of close games before. It's nice to know we still know how to do that.

"Will we see this team again? It's very possible. Right now, we're perfect going into the bye week."

Perfect. Pretty much says it all.

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

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