How many pairs of pants do you think Peyton Manning went through while watching the Patriots dismantle the Minnesota Vikings last night?
The only person more afraid of Bill Belichick today should be Belichick the younger. And after all is said and done Sunday night, ol' Peyton might need to seek some medicinal help himself if last night's 31-7 blowout is any indication of where the New England Patriots are headed.
I can just imagine the Patriots coach watching game film of the Colts this week, cackling hysterically, smoke pluming from his lips like Max Cady in Cape Fear. No sooner had everyone finished removing their puckered lips from Manning's derriere after the Colts' win at Denver Sunday, than Tom Brady upped the ante with a four-touchdown evening at Minnesota. And just like that, the Colts are shivering in fearful anticipation.
Yes, after Sunday, Peyton Manning will fall to 3-11 vs. the Patriots and just 1-8 at Foxborough. Is there any doubt of that after what we witnessed last night? The Patriots defense was relentless against the Vikings, and while Brad Johnson certainly isn't comparable to the likes of an All-Pro like Manning, we've seen enough of this script to know what to expect. And that, my friends, will be multiple angles of the Peyton pout, unsnapping his helmet in disgust after another interception. After the game, he'll want to be a good teammate, but will inevitably throw somebody under the bus.
Last season, Manning escaped Gillette Stadium with his first win on New England's home turf, a 40-21 win over a depleted New England defense that proved itself to be a longshot for January glory. A year later, and the Pats seem to be intact, having gelled as a unit over the last few weeks and having proven themselves to be a scary proposition to end the unbeaten streak of not just the Colts, but the Chicago Bears in a few weeks.
Tom Brady last night passed the ball to 10 different receivers, an almost unheard of distribution. While Tony Kornheiser was too busy trying to figure out why Brady isn't shoved down our throats by the Manning, Michael Vick, and Donovan McNabb churches of the national media, the Patriots quarterback went out and showed, once again, why he's the best in the business.
But he doesn't have the commercials, Kornheiser wailed, while the rest of the sporting world celebrates Peyton's next step. Poor Tom. No big deal, right? Just keep ignoring him. Keep calling him overrated. That's fine. How worthy are the accolades anyway? He'll just collect another ring with his Hollywood actress girlfriend by his side. Ho. Hum.
The Patriots, of course, altered their game plan last night against the NFL's best team against the run. This week, they face the worst team against the run in the Colts, who are allowing a league-worst 167.9 yards per game, just about the same amount they allow through the air (167.6, third-best in the NFL).
So, we can probably expect the Patriots to bang out a running attack with Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, for sure, or at least attempt to eat up more of the clock than Mike Shanahan apparently felt was necessary.
And Booger MacFarlane or no Booger MacFarlane, the New England line pretty much staked its claim to be considered among the best in the NFL with last night's performance. Brady could have knitted a sweater with some of the time he had standing in the pocket.
But it is the Pats D that is going to have the toughest matchup Sunday night against a Colts offense that piles up points faster than kids will collect the Milk Duds this evening. Watching the way the Broncos played the Colts is almost going to make Belchick's head explode with ideas as to how to stop them. There were far too many instances of soft coverage on the part of what was considered the AFC's best defense a week ago, leaving the likes of Reggie Wayne far too much room to make huge plays, which he did all day in lieu of Marvin Harrison, who was trailed by Champ Bailey all afternoon. Belichick's biggest problem this week is going to be deciding which of the 11 or so defensive game plans he should feature the most. About the only player he won't have a specified approach toward will be old friend Adam Vinatieri, and frankly, I won't even doubt that.
With a win Sunday, New England would get a leg up on the undefeated Colts for home-field advantage. And while we all know what happens to Manning and company in January, the Kryptonite intensifies the closer they get to Massachusetts. That's a process the Broncos will certainly be rooting for in their own Super Bowl interests, thanks to the AFC triangle of dominance we currently have on our hands.
The Colts can't beat the Patriots.
The Patriots can't beat the Broncos.
The Broncos can't beat the Colts.
It might come down to which matchup comes last, in the AFC title game, that will determine the Super Bowl participant. But even then, won't Belichick throw away a game against the Dolphins or something just so he can ensure the better playoff matchup? Who's to say?
What we do know, and what will become clear to the rest of the NFL after Sunday night, is that the Patriots have now caught their groove, and should be considered a mighty challenger, if not favorite, to be in Miami come the first weekend in February. Not so much that a win over the Vikings should be seen as defining, but the game plan, and particularly the way the personnel handled it, should be. The Patriots exploited Minnesota's weaknesses and walked away with their sixth win of the season, setting up a showdown against a team against whom they have continually exploited weakness after weakness with each ensuing meeting.
We've seen the look this team displayed last night before. And each time, it ended with Lombardi on a Duck Boat.
So, welcome to Foxborough, Mr. Manning. The usual, I presume.