A few Patriots-Colts thoughts 12 days out from the latest Game of the Century, all involving public, fan, media and team perceptions:
• I don't want to hear one thing from a Colt in the next two weeks along the lines of: "Nobody is giving us any credit. Everybody's jumping on the Patriot bandwagon, and people seem to forget we won the Super Bowl last year. We're getting dissed.'' (Well, I said it a little more properly than an angry player would.) No one in the press, public or football worlds would ever say the Colts aren't a great team. Whoever did would have to be cited for sporting idiocy.
The Patriots are one of the best teams ever to take the field. The Colts are close to that, and maybe better. We'll find out on Nov. 4. But it's silly for a player or a group of fans to derive motivation entering this game because some people, rightfully, think the Patriots are a better team right now. If it's arguable to suggest New England is playing better than any team has ever played for a half-season, then it's logical to say that the Patriots are the best team in 2007. It is not logical to derive from any of that that the Colts aren't getting their respect as defending champions.
• Tony Kornheiser asked Ron Jaworski Monday night on ESPN who he thought is better right now -- Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Jaworski looked like he'd rather answer this question: "Which of your daughters is your favorite?'' The answer is simple. We're living in an era with three of the best 10 quarterbacks (Manning, Brady, Brett Favre) ever to play. We'll have years to debate what order you'd put them in, and more great ones will be added as time passes. But I go back to point one: To pick one is not to discredit another.
Two years ago, I'd have picked Brady, based on his tradition of winning and being able to win a game when the whole thing was put on his shoulders. After 2006, I'd have picked the monkey-off-his-back Manning -- and I did pick him as the best player in football in that list of 500 players you all loved so much.
Now? I'd probably sway back to Brady, because he has shown how dominant he can be with a big-league receiving stable. I wish we'd have heard what Jaws really thought last night, because he watches each guy on game tape every week, but he ended up flipping a coin to make his choice. I think these two quarterbacks will rank in the top five of all time. Maybe 1-2, in some order. To say 15 years ago you liked Marino over Elway wasn't a knock on Elway. Same thing now.
• My one big question from the New England offseason still endures: When push comes to second-half shove, will the Patriots defense be stout enough to stop the Colts? Last year, in the second half of the AFC title game, the Patriots let Indy drive the ball 76, 76, 67, 59 and 80 yards to score. My feeling is the Pats will be better, even though in a personnel sense they're not going to be much different from the team that allowed 32 points in the last 25 minutes of the championship game. How much better, though?
• Indy needs to have a healthy Bob Sanders for the game against the Patriots, and the Colts go to Carolina this week for a physical test with the coming-off-the-bye Panthers. Sanders needs to come out of that game whole.
By the way, my lame attempt at satire in the Monday column didn't work. I wrote that Manning charted every pass play of every Sunday game, which he did not do. Just a joke. Boy, am I funny.
Onto your e-mails:
BILL IS SKEPTICAL OF BRITBALL. From Bill Boldin of Richmond, Va.: "Is it just me, or are there others who think that the NFL's headlong infatuation with playing internationally, is leading the league to the precipice of disaster? I think that having games outside the U.S. is displacing the existing fan for fans that probably will never come around to our version of football anymore than the way the U.S. fans have come around to soccer or hockey! I wrote an e-mail to the commissioner telling him what a dumb idea it is to even consider a Super Bowl in another country. I haven't heard anything back. "Here are my complaints: The prices of game tickets are too high for most fans. The NFL Network has hijacked games that are essentially now, pay-per-view. I will not pay premium prices for football games. There is no reward to the everyday fan for their favorite team to go to the Super Bowl, when the average fan cannot get or afford tickets, much less hotels, airfare, etc. The NFL is becoming just another large, multinational corporation, with a mentality that says, 'How can we soak more millions from our consumers, without upgrading our product!' I, for one, have just about had enough!! I dare you to put this print and/or share with anyone in the league offices.''
Your voice has been heard, Bill. Look, the owners are capitalists, and with each of the other three major sports making international inroads, it's naïve to not think about playing games that matter overseas. A Super Bowl is another matter. I don't think one will be played on foreign soil in the next 20 years.
ANOTHER VOICE IN THE PENNINGTON DISCUSSION. From Tim of Harrisburg, N.C.:
I think one point that is consistently lost in the Chad Pennington/Kellen Clemens debate is the fact that the field is so much shorter for defenses when the Jets start Pennington. Pennington apologists can quote me stats all they want. The fact is, he is not capable of stretching the field with any consistency throughout the course of an entire game, and both coaches know this. Jets coaches obviously (based on the ultra-conservative play calling this year) have no faith in Chad's ability to push a defense, which is why it's so baffling that they won't play Clemens at all. They need to find something positive about this season, and the opportunity to play and teach a young QB during real competition is a golden one.''
Could not have said it much better myself, Tim. It's time to make the change.
WHY THE CHARGERS AT NO. 3? From Eric Ebersbach, of Avon Park, Fla.: "Great work as usual, even though I don't agree with everything you write (3-3 San Diego at No. 3?) Anyways, a comment on Michael Strahan's book. Let me get this straight, it's cowardly to execute a perfectly legal cut block (I don't like it either, but it is legal), but it's OK to step on a guy's hand or twist a back's ankle 90 degrees? Explain please.''
Good points from a guy from Tom Gordon's hometown. The Chargers, in my opinion, would beat all but New England or Indy in games played on a neutral field today. That's how I do my rankings. And the next time I see Strahan, I will ask him your question. I know what he'll say. "All's fair in love and war, and sometimes, especially with the stupid cutblock rule, we have to take matters into our own hands as players.'' That's my guess.
THE STEELERS WILL BE FINE. From John Stafford of Norwich, N.Y.: "Thanks for the nice words about Colgate and Central New York. Lived here all my life, just south of Hamilton. Been to many Raiders football games. Little nervous about my Steelers right now. How do you see their season playing out?''
Pittsburgh needs to be a little more consistent on offense and ride Willie Parker a bit more than it did on Sunday night. The offensive line is not the road-grading group it's been in the past, but I don't think you have much to worry about. Except, of course, the prospect of surviving trips to Indianapolis and Foxboro in January to make it to another Super Bowl.
GREETINGS FROM ACROSS THE POND. From Chris, of Liverpool, England: "You mention the Rams O-line being terrible. But when you look at the Patriots and Colts lines, they see people get injured and just plug someone else in and still get it done. Most of these guys you've never heard of until they join these teams, but it's at a point now where you almost know as soon as they're signed/drafted they're going to be effective players. Much kudos has to go to their line coaches (and I'm sure a lot of others around the league) for the job they do. It makes you wonder if the Rams troubles at the moment can be blamed more on their personnel choices over the last few years and/or their O-line coaching than just saying: 'Oh, people got injured'. There's no way they should be as terrible as they are.''
The key to New England and Indy, I believe, is that they have the same offensive line philosophy and teaching year after year, with coaches Howard Mudd (Indianapolis) and Dante Scarnecchia (New England) preaching the same message in both places for more than a decade. They're both excellent offensive line technicians. Plus, the scouting departments knows exactly what the coaches want, in terms of talent and temperament. So both teams work in harmony
WHAT ABOUT THE HOME FANS? From Tad, of Arrowsic, Maine: "With all this discussion regarding overseas games during the regular season, I have heard nothing addressing the "home-team" ticket holder here in the U.S. Given that there are only eight home games in a season, how does the season ticket holder feel about giving up one of his home games? I suspect they are refunded the face value of the ticket, but this would be small consolation for either a die-hard fan who organizes their weekend around the Sunday tailgate or even the family member who happened to be in town for that particular weekend and was looking forward to their first NFL game.''
If the league organizes the overseas games the way it hopes, each NFL team would lose one home game per eight seasons. I don't think that's too much to ask -- particularly in the event that the league goes to a 17-game schedule in the next few years, which is a distinct possibility. In that scenario, the team would be adding an extra home game every other year.
I LIKED OU QUITE A BIT. From Eric Perrmann, of Cincinnati: "Peter, we Ohio University Alumni are stunned. A re-do at Colgate? You've got to be kidding, right?''
Hey, I like chocolate chip ice cream, and I like mint chocolate chip. Do I have to eat only one? Colgate is the OU of the East in terms of scenery and campus.