Peyton Manning may be gone, but if you ask the veteran members of the Indianapolis Colts, it's still something special when they meet the New England Patriots. The Colts travel to Foxboro to meet the Patriots on Sunday with only a handful of players remaining from the teams that almost annually squared off with the Patriots for AFC supremacy.
Among those players who have seen this rivalry play out through its entirety are rush linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The rivalry really began in 2003, Mathis rookie season, when the Colts outfought the Patriots 38-34 in a regular season meeting in Indianapolis. New England turned the tables though in the post season, defeating the Colts in the AFC Championship game 24-14 in a game played in Foxboro.
After that, the teams would meet nine more times during the Manning era, including two more playoff showdowns. The Colts held a 5-4 edge overall in the series, but the teams split their two playoff games, New England winning again in 2004 and the Colts breaking through in 2006 with the win in the AFC Championship game.
For Dwight Freeney, the history of this game runs deep:
“A lot of history between us and it never gets dull. For a few years there, it was like they were a division opponent. We would see them twice a year. It’s always been a battle. I’m sure it will be another one.”
Freeney has been doing his best to prepare the new Colts for what to expect on Sunday. He's certain they'll get a taste of the intensity between these two teams even before the game begins.
"You just have to prep them on the history and I’m sure there are some guys that will be throwing the bird up on the way to the stadium. You’ll see a little bit of that. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to definitely be a football atmosphere and I can’t wait to be a part of it again.”
For Mathis, the rivalry with the Patriots is one that he values greatly. To him, it's two of the premier franchises in the NFL getting together.
“Yeah, it’s a mutual respect because both teams have that history. Neither team takes each other for granted and it’s not an automatic win. You have to come out and play the game.”
Last year, the Colts limped into Foxboro already 0-11 and dropped a 31-24 decision that wasn't really that close. This week, both teams enter the game at 6-3 and are jockeying for playoff position.
Manning may be in Denver, but Andrew Luck and the Colts have returned to prominence quickly. It's only fitting that they have a meeting with their old measuring stick, the New England Patriots. After Sunday's game, the Colts will know where they need to be.
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