INSIDE SLANT: The Pats matchup with the Indianapolis Colts Thursday Night brings back thoughts of the old days. There were few better rivalries in NFL history than when the Peyton Manning led Colts played the Tom Brady led Pats. As a member of the Colts, Manning played the Pats 13 times. He won five of them including the 2006 AFC Championship Game. Brady beat Manning twice in the playoffs in 2003 and 2004. Now, the Colts are a shadow of their former self. Their QB Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, is coming off an injury that caused him to miss all of the 2017 season. Other than Luck, the team has only six players left since the Pats and Colts last played in 2015. The Colts best receiver, T.Y. Hilton, is unlikely to play. The Colts have few offensive weapons and a defense that Tom Brady can look at and say up and down the field all day long. Brady is 5-0 against Luck. Belichick has been impressed with Luck who has been throwing more than usual.
"I think probably any coach would be comfortable putting the ball in Luck's hands. He's a very good quarterback and he has excellent skill players to work with. We've seen Luck control many games before. It's different because it's a different system and I'm sure that Coach Reich has given Luck a lot of flexibility in the offense in terms of things at the line of scrimmage and post-snap decisions, pre-snap decisions, all of those kinds of things. So it's different, but I'd say he's had a lot of responsibility like that in the past and he handles it very well. He's a very sharp guy that has good football instincts and makes a lot of good decisions, so I can see why they put it in his hands," Bill Belichick said.
SERIES HISTORY: 76th meeting, Pats lead series 47-28. The last time the Colts beat the Pats was in 2009 when Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and two at their own 28 -- leading 34-28 with about two minutes remaining. Kevin Faulk caught the ball, but was just short of the first down. Peyton Manning led the Colts on the winning touchdown drive and the Colts won 35-34. The Patriots led that game 31-14 in the second half. The Pats have won the last seven meetings including two playoff victories by Brady against Luck. The Pats beat the Colts in the 2014 AFC Championship Game 45-7. The Pats are 4-1 against the Colts in the playoffs. The Colts beat the Pats 38-34 in the 2006 AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Colts K Adam Vinatieri, a legend in Pats history because of the kick he made in the snow against Oakland in 2001 and the two Super Bowl game-winning kicks, is now in his 23rd season. He started kicking in 1996 - the same year Pats rookie RB Sony Michel was born. Vinatieri just passed Morten Anderson for the most made kicks in NFL history. Belichick was asked about Vinatieri Tuesday.
"I would say it (the kick against the Raiders in the snow) was by far the greatest kick I have ever seen. The conditions were very difficult. There were probably three to four inches of snow on the ground. It was a soft snow that kind of didn’t go away. I mean, there was no way to get around it. The magnitude of the kick was significant. It’s got to be the greatest kick of all time, certainly that I’ve seen. Adam (Vinatieri) is a great player. He was a great player here and has been a great player for the Colts, great person. He works hard. He certainly doesn’t fit the classic profile for a kicker. He is more of a football player. He’s physically and mentally tough. When he was here, he trained and worked out with all the players. There was no special program for him as a kicker or anything like that. He embraced that. He had a great relationship with his teammates because of the way he worked, how competitive and mentally and physically tough he was and how he was willing to help out in other areas of the team – scout team and things like that."
"Whatever the team needed he was always great about that. He was a clutch, dependable player in his role. So, you can’t ask for much more than that. He has had a fabulous career. Certainly, in my opinion, the greatest kicker in the game. Not just for his longevity and production but again, the magnitude of some of the kicks that he made and the difficulty – particularly the one that you mentioned. But there were many besides that – the kick in the Super Bowl and the kick in the Carolina Super Bowl. So, I mean there were just big games after big games that we couldn’t – back in 2001, it seemed like every game came down to the last possession or the last kick. Every point was critical. Those games we won in 2001 and 2003 – especially in the early part of the year in 2003 – were all close games and tough ones. Adam came through for us with some enormous kicks. Congratulations to him and to the great career that he has and honestly it doesn’t seem like there is much sign of him slowing down. The ball continues to go right in the middle of the uprights. It never curves. It doesn’t hook. It just goes straight down the middle. So he just has an unbelievable level of consistency," Belichick said.
Colts DE Jabaal Sheard played for the Pats in 2015 and 2016 where he had 13 sacks.
"We love Jabaal. He’s been a leader on the practice field, he’s been an emotional leader, playing at a high level, playing with great intensity, just brings a kind of toughness. You know, we talk a lot about toughness. He’s really provided all that for us," Frank Reich said.
Jacoby Brissett: the Pats drafted Brissett in the third round of the 2016 draft and traded him to the Colts for Phillip Dorsett prior to the 2017 season. Brissett started two games for the Pats in 2016 - going 1-1. He beat the Houston Texans and lost to the Buffalo Bills.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 - The number of primetime games the Pats will play in the next five weeks. Thursday Night against the Colts, a week from Sunday Night home against the Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs, a Monday Night Game at Buffalo, and a Sunday Night Game home against the Green Bay Packers. The Players will not get much family time in the next month.
217 - With a win, the Pats will earn their 217th victory since 2000 - tying the San Francisco 49ers for the most regular season wins over two decades (1980s/1990s).
48 - With 48 receiving yards, Rob Gronkowski will move into second place all-time on the Pats receiving yards list. He will surpass Wes Welker and remain behind Stanley Morgan all-time.
6 - the amount of catches that Rob Gronkowski has combined in the last two games. Every defense knows stop Gronkowski, with the Pats deficiency at receiver, and a team has a strong chance to win.
1 - With one touchdown reception, James White will pass Kevin Faulk for second most touchdown receptions among Pats running backs. White currently has 15 touchdowns catches. Larry Garron is first with 26 touchdown catches. Garron played for the Boston Patriots from 1960-1968 before Old Foxboro Stadium was built. Records indicate he is still living.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL: Adrian Clayborn: It would be nice to get some production out of the defensive end who was supposed to upgrade the pass rush.
Dont'a Hightower: Despite the suggestion of former Pats personnel man Michael Lombardi to move Hightower to defensive end, Bill Belichick will likely keep Hightower at linebacker.
Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski did not practice Tuesday with an ankle injury. Bill Belichick faces an interesting decision because the Pats can beat the Colts without Gronkowski. Thus, Belichick might consider giving Gronkowski the game off so he does not aggravate his injury. The Pats want to make sure Gronkowski is ready to play against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are undefeated, a week from Sunday.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Julian Edelman. The Pats are excited their workhouse receiver is back. Edelman, who was suspended four games because of performing enhancing drugs, arrived at Gillette Stadium Monday morning ready to work. Edelman has not played a real game in about 18 months since the Pats beat the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. Edelman had the miraculous catch against the Falcons that will be remembered in Pats history.
"We’ve played so much football together. I really have no doubt where he’s going to be at, what he’s capable of. He’s been a great player for our team. I think everyone’s excited to have him back, and anytime you add great players, it’s going to help what we’re doing. We all welcome him back and he’s excited, ready to go and hopefully he can go out and play great. Hopefully we can all go play great. We’re going to need it," Tom Brady said Monday.
GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Pats will need to block Jabaal Sheard who can be force off the edge. The Pats should have an easy time against a defense with a lot of young players. The Pats should attempt to establish the run game early, which will prevent the Colts defense from just focusing on the pass. Brady should be able to find plenty of holes in this Colts defense that gave up 37 points to a Houston Texans team that is one of the worst in the NFL.
Defensively, the Colts only hope to win is for Andrew Luck to play a great game. Belichick should be able to confuse Luck enough to prevent this from happening. Belichick will likely mix his coverages to prevent Luck from getting comfortable. Luck has never come close to beating Belichick and don't expect this to be the first time.
QUOTES ON GAME: Devin McCourty on getting ready to play a game on a short week "Coach Belichick tells us you got to fill up your gas tank every week and then empty it on game day."
As for what motivates McCourty to win Thursday Night. "To get the weekend off. Don't tell my wife she will probably find things to do."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: WR Ryan Grant v. CB Stephon Gilmore (Gilmore, who played well against the Miami Dolphins after a so-so performance against the Detroit Lions might have to take away the Colts best receiver with T.Y. Hilton not expected to play). Grant has 18 catches this season.
LT Anthony Castonzo v. DE Trey Flowers/Adrian Clayborn (Castonzo, a Boston College graduate is a very good left tackle, who the Pats must help in order to have an effective pass rush. The Colts face challenges on the other side of the offensive line with RT Denzelle Good).