Once again, Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., it’s the Indianapolis Colts playing the New England Patriots.
The two franchises haven’t been in the AFC East since 2001. Yet due to the quirks of the NFL scheduling system, this is the 10th straight year that the Colts and Patriots have faced off against one another.
“It’s like a division game,” New England coach Bill Belichick said during Wednesday’s teleconference.
First it was rookie quarterback Peyton Manning and veteran Patriots signal-caller Drew Bledsoe. Then it was Manning and a young Tom Brady. Now it’s come full circle to be former Super Bowl MVP Brady and Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
Times have changed. So has the makeup of the two franchises.
The only constants in the series over the last 10 years have been Belichick, who is in his 13th season with the Patriots, and Brady.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, has countered on the sidelines with Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and now interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
Arians, filling in for coach Chuck Pagano as he recovers from treatments for leukemia, knows the Patriots well from his days as an assistant with Indianapolis, Cleveland and, most recently, Pittsburgh.
That knowledge of how Belichick likes to set up defenses against inexperienced quarterbacks should come in handy.
Arians, though, says the Colts won’t be doing much different in how they prepare for the Patriots as compared to other opponents this season.
“I think at this point of the time in the year, when you get into November football and you are in the hunt, everyone should spend a little more time, sacrifice a little bit more, to prepare yourself because you are playing for now. To play for more, you do more,” he said Wednesday.
“I don’t think [Luck] has to do anything different than he’s been doing. Study the tape, it’s all out there. We have had a pretty good relationship and I’ve had a good experience against coach Belichick over the years with young quarterbacks and old quarterbacks. I kind of feel that I have a pretty good handle of what to see. We’ll have him ready.”
Physiologically, Arians wants to make sure his rookie quarterback doesn’t get caught up in the notion that he has to match everything Brady does on the field Sunday.
“The thing about that is [Luck has] got to realize that [he doesn’t] play Tom Brady. [He and the rest of the offense] have to get ready for their defense,” he said.
“The best way to handle Tom Brady is to play real good yourself and keep him on the bench. That’s easier said than done with their defense.”
Going on the road to Gillette Stadium with a young team is not an easy task in the best of situations. Arians knows that.
“We have to first and foremost protect the football because they lead the league in turnovers. They’ve got 13 fumbles and 10 interceptions. When we’re in piles, a half a yard doesn’t mean as much as protect the football,” he said.
“They do a great job of stripping the ball. It’s a matter of you executing your offense, scoring as many points as you can and let the team take care of the rest. Don’t get caught up standing there and watching [Brady].”
The fact that over two-thirds of the Colts’ roster wasn’t around last year can be more than a little disconcerting.
“It’s funny because I had a show of hands of how many guys in the lockerroom that this was their first trip to Foxborough. Way too many,” Arians said with a laugh and a shake of his head.
• Injury list — Cornerback Vontae Davis (knee) and rookie tight end Coby Fleener (shoulder) have been ruled out of the New England game.
Davis and Fleener, though, might be back in time for the following week’s home game with Buffalo.
“We’re hoping [getting Davis back] possibly next week, shooting for Detroit for sure but we got our fingers crossed he can get back next week,” Arians said. “Coby ran around a lot last week and is starting to heal. It could be next week also for him.”
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis (back), center Samson Satele (back), offensive tackle Winston Justice (knee) and running back Donald Brown (knee) all fully participated in Wednesday’s practice.
• Chapman might see work -- Rookie nose tackle Josh Chapman is expected to be brought along slowly in the week leading up to the Patriots game.
Chapman was added to the active roster earlier this week after being cleared to play. He had been sidelined since undergoing knee surgery in January. The former Alabama standout may be a game-day inactive depending on how he does the rest of this week in practice.
“It’s just a matter of if he’s healthy and if he’s the next best player we have to dress on Sunday. We’ll make that determination as the week goes along,” Arians said. “He’s been cleared to play. We have some nice depth in our defensive line right now so there’s not a need to push him out there if he’s not ready. We’ll wait and see how that goes.”
Rookie offensive tackle Justin Anderson, who has been out with a foot injury since the start of training camp, is going through the same three-week review process that Chapman just completed.
“He’s coming along. He’s practiced two or three weeks now, two weeks. He’s got a long way to go consistency-wise. Hopefully we can keep him going. We don’t have to make that [roster] move for at least another week,” Arians said.
• Butler did it — Cornerback Darius Butler has been named as the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Jacksonville last Thursday.
A second-round pick by New England in 2009, Butler had a pair of interceptions — including one run back for a touchdown — in the win over the Jaguars. He also recovered a fumble that helped set up the Colts’ first touchdown of the game.
While he was in New England, Butler became friends with Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. The two former teammates will renew acquaintances Sunday.
“Obviously, I was there for two years with Wes. We actually work out offseason at the same place, so we’re definitely familiar with each other as far as athletic ability,” Butler said. “It’ll be a great matchup. He’s one of the best receivers in the game, obviously one of the most productive in the past few years in this league. It’ll be a great matchup for us, for this defense.”