New England Has History on Its Side

Article excerpt

Byline: David Elfin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

They're both leading their divisions at 9-2 and almost certainly are playoff-bound. But New England is coached by Bill Belichick, and that usually makes the difference against Indianapolis and quarterback Peyton Manning.

Since Belichick became the Patriots' coach in 2000, they're 3-1 against the Colts - the same record he posted against Manning as defensive coordinator of the New York Jets from 1998 to 1999. And New England is 12-6 in Indianapolis since the Colts moved there in 1984.

"I have the utmost respect for Coach Belichick," said Manning, who has 3,105 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions for the NFL's No. 1 passing attack. "It's always a great challenge."

That didn't figure to be the case this year after Belichick traded safety Tebucky Jones and cut cornerback Otis Smith and Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy, but free agents Rodney Harrison and Tyrone Poole and rookie Eugene Wilson have combined with holdover Pro Bowl corner Ty Law to form one of the NFL's best secondaries. The Patriots, who have won seven straight games, have allowed a league-low six touchdown passes while recording 17 interceptions and holding opposing passers to an awful 57.7 rating.

"We're faster in the secondary than we were last year, but that wouldn't take much," Belichick said. "We had to be one of the slowest in the league last year."

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, fourth in the AFC with nine sacks, is anything but slow. The Patriots, who have allowed quarterback Tom Brady to be sacked 23 times including four in last week's overtime victory against Houston, have to neutralize Freeney.

Both teams also have to avoid looking ahead. The Colts next visit Tennessee (9-2) in an AFC South showdown while the Patriots play host to Miami (8-4) in an AFC East battle.

Eagles-Panthers - NFC East-leading Philadelphia and NFC South-leading Carolina match 8-3 records today in Charlotte, but while the visitors have a six-game winning streak, the hosts have lost two of their last four.

The Cowboys held star Panthers running back Stephen Davis to 59 yards on 26 carries in a 24-20 victory last week largely by run blitzing and other twists that Carolina hadn't seen.

"They sometimes had nine, 10 guys [in the box]," Davis said. "They were doing a lot of run blitzing and moving guys around. We've got to get prepared a little better."

With quarterback Jake Delhomme (9-for-24) off target, the Panthers were stuck.

Philadelphia has won those six straight games despite surrendering an average of 164 rushing yards and 5. …