As others panic, Pats fans believe
January 16. 2005 8:00AM
I was looking for the panic button last weekend. You've heard athletes and coaches talk about not pushing the panic button, right? Well, I wanted to push it. I searched for some ominous red button encased in glass and surrounded by sirens, maybe near a red phone or fire alarm. I couldn't find one.
Why was I on a quest for the fabled button? Last Friday I learned the Patriots were going to be without cornerback extraordinaire Ty Law for the playoffs. Then on Sunday I watched Peyton Manning and the Colts torch Denver's fourth-ranked pass defense for 360 yards ... in the firsthalf. That's when I started looking for the panic button.
I began wondering what Manning and his trio of 1,000-yard receivers would do to a New England secondary without Law or Tyrone Poole, New England's other starting cornerback, in today's playoff game at Gillette Stadium. I started envisioning wide receiver-turned-cornerback Troy Brown trying to cover Brandon Stokely and linebacker-turned-safety Don Davis attempting to run deep with Marvin Harrison. Who wouldn't panic with those thoughts and receivers running wild in your head?
I'll tell you who: Patriot fans, that's who.
That's the mentality of the new Patriot fan, the Patriot fan with two Lombardi trophies in three years, the Patriot fan who hasn't seen a loss on their field in two years and is undefeated in the playoffs in this century. No matter who the opponent, what the obstacle or where the game, the new Patriot fan is confident. The new Patriot fans don't think their team can win every game, they know they can win. Somehow, some way, these Patriots always do.
Monday afternoon, after much analysis of stats, matchups and history, my panic gave way to the new Patriot fan confidence. The Patriots still have the better coach. They have the home-field advantage. They had the bye week. They have the better defense. They have an offense that can outscore Indy, since it has averaged 36 points against the Colts in the last four matchups between the two. They're tougher and rougher than the Colts. They have the Colts number. And they're still the defending champs.
# Bill Belichick is at the heart of the new Patriot fan mentality. The coach is ultra prepared, unpredictable and innovative. He has made himself into the standard for not only NFL coaches but for all professional coaches. Tony Dungy is a good coach and has done a nice job with the Colts, but in 23 years as a head and assistant coach in the NFL, he has never reached a Super Bowl. Belichick has four Super Bowl rings, including two as an assistant.
# It probably won't snow today like it did in last year's AFC Championship Game between the Pats and the Colts, but the field in Foxboro will be slow and thick with mud. That mire will be just one aspect of New England's home-field advantage. The Colts haven't won in Foxboro since 1995 and Manning is 0-5 there, including the Pats' 27-24 victory in the season opener this season. The Colts lost four times this year, and three of those losses were outdoors. Manning is 25-25 outdoors in his career. Only one domed team has ever won the Super Bowl, the 1999 Rams, and they played all three of their postseason games indoors.
# Sure, the Pats defense is banged up, but it's been banged up most of the season. Poole hasn't played since the fifth game of the year, Law hasn't played since the seventh and Asante Samuel, the team's No. 3 cornerback, missed three games due to injury. Still the Patriots finished with the seventh-ranked defense in the league. Safeties Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison, who have a history of mauling the Colts receivers, are one of the league's best tandems. Randall Gay has filled in admirably at cornerback. And New England's front seven is full of smart and physical playmakers.
The Colts' defense, which was ranked 29th, can't compare with the Pats'. Can you even name Indy's starting corners? They're Nick Harper and Jason David, and both are listed on the Colts' injury report.
# So Manning broke Dan Marino's 20-year-old touchdown record this season by throwing for 49 TDs. Check out his numbers against Belichick-led defenses. Coach Bill has limited Manning to a 58.8 completion percentage, an 18-to-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 74.1 quarterback rating. For his career, Manning has a 63.5 completion percentage, a 216-to-120 touchdown-to-pick ratio and a 92.3 quarterback rating.
I could go on, but my panic has now gone from confidence to a frenzy. I should calm down. I should probably also share all my panic button clues with the Colts. They'll be looking for it soon.
(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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