Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck celebrates after the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Thomas J. Russo)
The New England Patriots will not be devising a game-plan geared specifically to contain Peyton Manning, but head coach Bill Belichick expects another hard-fought playoff battle against the Indianapolis Colts’ latest prolific quarterback.
The Colts (12-5) visit the Patriots (12-4) at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday night in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, with Indianapolis coming off a dramatic 45-44 wild-card victory at home against the Kansas City Chiefs engineered by second-year quarterback Andrew Luck
“There’s no question he’s a complete football player and one of the top quarterbacks in this league already,” said Belichick. “He has a great career in front of him but I think he’s already established himself as a very poised and talented player that can do a lot of things to beat you and he manages his team well and plays good situational football.”
The Patriots had a first-round bye for the fourth consecutive season as the No. 2 seed in the conference after winning the AFC East for the 11th straight year. The Patriots have won five of their past six games.
Indianapolis held a weight-room workout with 100 percent attendance on Sunday despite a game that played out like a 12-round heavyweight fight against the Chiefs. The Colts mounted the second-largest playoff comeback in the NFL history, rallying from a 35-10 hole in the third quarter to upend the Chiefs.
Answering the bell in Foxborough, Mass., is not a worry according to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, but it is uncharted territory for the upstart AFC South champions. The confidence comes from a season of comebacks and two years of dealing with less-than-ideal conditions.
Still, the Colts will enter banged up, with cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry among those whose status could be uncertain up until game time.
“You can be 100 percent and it’s going to be a huge undertaking,” Pagano said of the prospect of facing the Patriots’ Tom Brady or Manning’s Denver Broncos, before learning New England would be Saturday’s opponent. “Again, both guys have played at a high level for a long, long time. It’s up-tempo. They find a way to get themselves, to get their offense, to get their team in the right play 99 percent of the time. They don’t allow you to do certain things from a defensive standpoint. They dictate the tempo. They’re great game managers. They do it all at the line of scrimmage and there’s nothing that they have not seen and been through.
“With a group back there that’s 100 percent, it’s a huge undertaking. So if guys aren’t 100 percent or you’re missing some bodies back there, certainly it makes it even more of a challenge.”
The last playoff meeting between the teams was in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. True to modern form, the Colts won the game, 38-34, overcoming an 18-point deficit.
The Colts reached the playoffs in 2012 but lost in the wild-card round to Super Bowl champion Baltimore. Pagano said the team was focused not to go home early.
“We wanted to take the next step as a team. We got there last year, weren’t satisfied. We were bound and determined to find a way to move on and advance, and they did it again,” Pagano said.
Belichick used the Colts’ victory over the Chiefs as an opportunity to get an early start on evaluating this week’s opponent.
“This is a team that’s well coached, that’s had a real good season,” he said. “They beat some of the best teams in the league - in both the AFC and the NFC. They’ve just been impressive. We’ve gotten a little work done on them but we obviously have a lot more to do and a short week here. We’ll have to really gear it up and obviously play our best football of the year and try to be competitive against this team. This is a good football team. “