Alas, Seth, Gisele’s number isn’t in my Rolodex. I do, however, have a friend-of-a-friend who claims to be somewhat tight with the newly single Dita Von Teese. After her apparently unpleasant experience as Marilyn Manson’s wife, maybe she’ll be looking for a change-of-pace man on the rebound—a Patriots-loving writer with a fondness for Domino’s, beer, and Wes Anderson, perhaps? Stranger things have happened.
How about I’ll get you Dita’s digits (or at least her e-mail) if the Pats win? I’m similarly flummoxed about what constitutes an Indianapolis delicacy, since I was born and bred in Los Angeles. I became a Colts fan thanks to an NFL Films documentary about the 1958 NFL title game, colloquially known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” It was the first thing I ever saw on ESPN, the same day the cable guy hooked us up back in the early 1980s. I was a pretty oddball kid, as you might imagine, so I decided I’d become the only Colts fan within a 10-mile radius. Bad timing on my part: The Bert Jones Era was just ending, and many dismal 3-13 (or worse) seasons lay ahead. Detroit Lions fans, I feel your pain.
Sage point about the Pats’ red-zone defense being one of the keys to the game. Despite Peyton Manning’s strong-armed reputation, a lot of Colts touchdowns seem to come when they’re operating between the 10- and 15-yard lines with a fresh set of downs. They’ll use play action, for sure, but also some creative receiver sets; look for defensive tackle Dan Klecko to record some red-zone offensive snaps coming out of the backfield and for Dallas Clark to be a favorite target on back-of-the-end-zone post patterns. I also wonder if Dungy might let Manning run the bootleg; you obviously don’t want to risk the knees of your franchise player, but MasterCard’s favorite pitchman is deceptively fast. Check the tape of the Ravens game—Manning had a beautiful 7-yard scramble in the second quarter, on the drive that set up Adam Vinatieri’s 51-yard field goal. Laser rocket legs, my friend.
Rather than delve too deeply into matchup minutiae—whole volumes could be written on the ways in which Colts DE Dwight Freeney will try to abuse Pats LT Matt Light—I’m going to make some pretty specific quarter-by-quarter predictions. I’ll start with the coin toss: Bet the ranch on tails.
The Colts win the toss and choose to receive, in the hopes of hanging an early touchdown on the Patriots. But lo and behold, after an impressive Terrence Wilkins return, the Colts offense sputters and suffers the indignity of an opening three-and-out. Manning walks toward the sideline looking as if someone just kicked his dog in the stomach, and the Hoosier faithful start looking at one another and wondering, Are they gonna muck this up again? To make matters worse, the Patriots manage a field goal, thanks to a defensive pass interference call on CB Marlin Jackson. CBS analyst Phil Simms tells broadcast partner Jim Nantz: “It’s still early, Jim. We’ve got a lot of game left to play.”
Score: Pats 3, Colts 0
On the Colts’ first possession of the quarter, running back Joseph Addai finally breaks one for a decent gain. The RCA Dome goes wild, although it’s difficult to tell whether their joy is real or sarcastic. But the enthusiasm crescendos as Reggie Wayne pulls down a tough sideline grab, Dominic Rhodes works the screen to perfection, and Dallas Clark streaks to the 10-yard line, setting up first-and-goal. It takes until third down, but the Colts finally punch it in—Marvin Harrison on the fade route to the corner. And he spikes the ball and talks smack to Patriots’ CB Ellis Hobbs! The crowd goes nuts—the last time Harrison showed this much emotion was when his dad took him to see The Black Stallion in 1979. The Pats respond with a quarter-ending Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Score: Colts 7, Pats 6
The Pats march steadily across the field to open up the second half, reaching the red zone in 14 plays. But on a second-and-four play-action pass intended for Jabar Gaffney, Tom Brady slings the ball right into Colts safety Antoine Bethea’s chest. The offense then comes out and sets up a Vinatieri field goal. The Pats respond in kind. Simms comments that “everybody is surprised” by the low-scoring contest. No sooner do the words leave his mouth than Manning hits Reggie Wayne for a 73-yard touchdown. Hobbs and CB Chad Scott start jawing over who blew the coverage. There is dissension in the ranks!
Score: Colts 17, Pats 9
Unwilling to risk a game-killing fumble, Belichick goes conservative, playing veteran Corey Dillon rather than rookie RB Laurence Maroney. Oops, looks like someone caught a bad case of the Dungys! Cato June is all over Dillon, and Brady is forced to go vertical. On a key third-down dropback, Freeney finally breaks free from Light (whose obvious holding has gone unpunished all day) and puts his left shoulder right into Brady’s spine. Fumble! Recovered by the Colts. Belichick challenges, claiming that Brady’s arm was going forward. The replay shows he might be right, but there’s not enough visual evidence to overturn the call—karmic payback for the infamous “tuck rule” game. The Colts are on the Patriots’$2 27-yard line but—d’oh!—they squander the opportunity with a three-and-out and have to settle for another field goal. The Pats come back, run the hurry-up, and pick apart the Cover 2—the Colts’ pint-sized defensive backs are out of gas. Brady to Reche Caldwell for the score, and Belichick goes for two. No good! Bob Sanders bats down an over-the-middle pellet intended for TE Ben Watson. Hands-team stud Matt Giordano recovers the onside kick for the Colts, and Rhodes runs out the clock. Pandemonium in Indianapolis, and in my apartment. Life isn’t such a cruel mistress after all. I head out to the bodega for a celebratory six-pack.
Final Score: Colts 20, Pats 15
Don’t worry about the lobstah chowdah, Seth. Just send me some Indian pudding, and we’re cool.