The Herald Bulletin

January 6, 2014

George Bremer: Fresh spin for reunion of familiar foes

The Herald Bulletin

---- — There's something very familiar about the Indianapolis Colts playing the New England Patriots in the postseason.

Saturday's AFC divisional round contest will be the fourth playoff game between the two franchises and the third to be played in Foxborough, Mass. It also ensures the rivals will play one another for the 11th consecutive year, with another meeting already slated for the 2014 regular season.

But there's a very different feeling this time around.

For one, it will be just the second time Andrew Luck has faced New England and just the third time the Colts have played the Patriots without Peyton Manning during the nearly 12-year run.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick got the better of Luck during his rookie year, posting a dominant 59-24 victory last season at Gillette Stadium. The quarterback led 80-yard touchdown drives on the first two possessions but finished with three interceptions while completing 54 percent of his passes.

He also rushed just once, for 4 yards, as Belichick applied his legendary attention to detail to New England's defensive plan.

That fact doesn't seem to be providing the Patriots with much confidence this time around, however.

"I'm not really going back to last year," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told the media Monday. "It's different. I would say he's difficult to prepare for for this weekend."

Luck, of course, will be without Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen this time around. They combined for 13 catches and 141 yards in last year's game, but Brady will be without a few key targets of his own.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd had 18 total receptions for 262 yards and two of Brady's three touchdown passes against the Colts last year. The veteran quarterback has been playing without the trio for much of the 2013 season — Gronkowski is on injured reserve, Welker defected as a free agent to the Denver Broncos and Lloyd was released.

In their place is a fleet of young players who needed time to find their rhythm.

Brady has found something that works, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 4,343 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as the Patriots finished 12-4 and earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

And that brings these rivals back to common ground. Each has dealt with adversity throughout the season. And each has found new and varied ways to win.

For the Colts, that included a franchise playoff-record 28-point comeback in the wild-card round.

If the Indianapolis-New England series has taught us anything over the years, it's that the adversity for both sides might just be getting started.