1:00 PM ET, December 4, 2011
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
For Tom Brady and the Patriots, it's business as usual.
New England looks to continue its push toward the AFC's No. 1 seed Sunday when it hosts the Colts, who will start Dan Orlovsky at quarterback.
This is the ninth straight year these teams have met in the regular season, and it's usually been among the NFL's most anticipated matchups in that stretch.
Sunday's game, however, figures to be more mundane with Manning out and the Colts coming in at 0-11, making New England a heavy favorite. The game was originally scheduled for prime time, but has been relegated to an early afternoon slot.
For the third straight game, the Patriots (8-3) will be facing a backup quarterback. Two weeks ago, they defeated Kansas City 34-3 with Tyler Palko making his first career start, and last Sunday they beat Philadelphia 38-20 with Vince Young filling in for an injured Michael Vick.
This week, with Manning still out following neck surgery and Curtis Painter having been ineffective, Orlovsky will make his first start since 2008.
He figures to have a hard time keeping up with the Patriots, who have scored the most points in the AFC (331) while the Colts have given up the most in the NFL (327).
Still, New England isn't looking ahead as it tries to move closer to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It's currently tied atop the conference with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston.
"They've heard me talk about every week, saying we don't care about the record and we don't. What difference does it make? How someone played two weeks ago against somebody else -- who cares?" coach Bill Belichick said. "The only thing that matters is how we and the Colts perform against each other on Sunday."
Brady is 8-4 as a starter against the Colts, including 2-1 in the postseason. Last November, he threw a pair of early touchdown passes to Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez in New England's 31-28 home victory.
Last week, he was 24 of 34 for 361 yards and three touchdowns despite completing passes to only four different players. Deion Branch had six catches for 125 yards while Welker had eight receptions for 115 yards and two scores.
New England also ran the ball a season-high 36 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns. In the last three games -- all wins -- the Patriots have averaged 33.0 carries and 107.0 yards rushing. In losses to Pittsburgh and the New York Giants the previous two weeks, the team averaged 18.0 carries for 74.5 yards.
"I thought it was more balanced," Brady said. "That's how it needs to be, you got to run it. You got to throw it to everybody and you got to keep them off balance."
Brady has been nearly unbeatable once December begins, going 33-5 over his career, and he figures to add another win against the lowly Colts.
Indianapolis fell 27-19 to Carolina last Sunday to drop to 0-11 for the first time since 1986, when it lost its first 13 games. On Tuesday, coach Jim Caldwell announced that defensive coordinator Larry Coyer had been fired and that Orlovsky will start in place of Painter, who has a passer rating of 66.6 -- the second-lowest mark among qualified quarterbacks.
Orlovsky knows something about being on a losing team. He was drafted in the fifth round by Detroit in 2005 and started seven games on the Lions team that went 0-16 in 2008. He didn't play again until 2010, when he appeared in one game with Houston without throwing a pass. This season, he's come off the Colts bench three times and completed 14 of 21 passes for 122 yards.
Orlovsky is the third player to start under center for Indianapolis. Kerry Collins started the first three games before a concussion landed him on injured reserve.
"I'm not going to be Superman or anything like that," Orlovsky said. "I'm just going to run the offense, try to get us in good situations, try to move the chains and go from there. ... I'm excited about the opportunity and appreciative of it."
The Colts have totaled 29 points and 721 yards of offense the last three games.
"Schematically, (the Colts) look pretty much the same as they usually do," Belichick said. "Obviously, a couple of changes in personnel, but a team we always have trouble with."
While Indianapolis expects changes to the defense after putting linebackers coach Mike Murphy in charge of the unit, it remains to be seen how much can be accomplished with five games remaining and the team dealing with a multitude of injuries. It's giving up an AFC-worst 150.6 yards per game on the ground.
"Obviously, it's going to be very, very difficult to say you're going to see a wholesale change (on defense) in three days," Caldwell said. "But I do think that you're going to see effort, hustle and good, sound principles and practices, and football in the way in which we know how to play. We just expect to be better in all areas."
Colts-Patriots: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Colts-Patriots matchup.
1. Mission impossible? Obviously, the winless Colts are the far inferior team in this matchup, and playing in New England is a brutal task for anyone. Indianapolis is having a very difficult time with its turnover differential. The Colts are also awful on special teams. New England put on an efficient passing clinic last week as it dismantled the Eagles.
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New England Patriots
|Avg Points Allowed||29.8||20.6|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||IND|
|Rush Yds Allowed||IND|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 9-5|
|Nov 21, 2010||IND 28, @NE 31|
|Nov 15, 2009||IND 35, NE 34|
|Nov 2, 2008||IND 18, NE 15|
|Nov 4, 2007||IND 20, NE 24|
|Jan 21, 2007||IND 38, NE 34|
|Nov 5, 2006||IND 27, @NE 20|
|Nov 7, 2005||IND 40, @NE 21|
|Jan 16, 2005||IND 3, @NE 20|
|Sep 9, 2004||IND 24, @NE 27|
|Jan 18, 2004||IND 14, @NE 24|
|Nov 30, 2003||IND 34, NE 38|
|Oct 21, 2001||IND 17, NE 38|
|Sep 30, 2001||IND 13, @NE 44|
The career numbers for Tom Brady and Joe Montana are strikingly similar. Both won 2 regular season MVP awards and when combining the regular and postseason, both have 133 wins as a starter (Brady 133-40; Montana 133-54). Brady has one more TD pass than Montana's 318, but Montana holds the advantage in the all important category of Super Bowl titles.[+]
ESPN Stats & Information