NOV. 30 was a big day for the four remaining Super Bowl
contenders. The Patriots squeezed out a win over the Colts in
Indianapolis, but no one will ever convince Peyton Manning and
his gang that they should have lost. In Carolina the Eagles beat
the Panthers, who were sure the defeat was a fluke. Maybe both
losers were right. We'll find out this Sunday; only this time New
England and Philadelphia are the home teams.
INDIANAPOLIS AT NEW ENGLAND The Patriots led 31-10 in November,
and they had the ball on the Indy 32 with 6:12 left in the third
quarter. Manning had just thrown an interception, and the Colts
were a whipped team. But then New England started flinging the
ball all over the place, and a quick pick set up an Indianapolis
scoring drive. Now the Colts were back in it, and the fans woke
up, and ... well, it ended with the Pats stopping Edgerrin James
two yards short of the goal line. New England won 38-34.
Bill Belichick and his defensive brain trust will be facing one
of their most serious challenges this time because Manning and
the Colts are in a zone. It's hard to imagine how anyone can play
the quarterback position better than he did in K.C. When the
Chiefs blitzed him, Manning was meticulous on his hot reads. When
they laid back in a zone, he picked them apart. So what do the
Pats do to stop this machine?
Pop their inside backers into the lanes, blitz and beat Manning's
hot receivers to the ball, stunt like crazy inside and get a lot
of pressure up the middle, forcing him to work the perimeters. Do
I think New England can do all this? Well, some of it. The
Patriots will do enough to hold Indy to fewer points than their
own attack will generate against a suspect Indy defense.
Patriots 27, Colts 24
CAROLINA AT PHILADELPHIA In the first encounter the Panthers
reached the red zone on five of their first seven possessions,
but all they got out of it was 10 points. John Kasay had one of
the worst days of his career with three missed field goals and a
botched extra point. Carolina outgained and outsacked the Eagles,
and still lost 25-16.
Brian Westbrook, who had 96 yards rushing and receiving for
Philly that day, will miss the rematch (torn triceps). The
Panthers' Stephen Davis, who rushed for 115 yards against Philly,
might be out too (strained quad). Last weekend Duce Staley and
DeShaun Foster filled in for Westbrook and Davis, respectively,
and performed admirably. Carolina will run on the Eagles.
Everybody does. But Panthers coach John Fox won't pull back and
start putting the ball up, as Green Bay did on Sunday.
Early on the Packers looked like they were going to run it up on
Philly, but the Eagles prevailed. Donovan McNabb's ball was
nosediving on him for much of the game, but in crunch time he
found a way to win it. Logic says to go with Carolina. But the
Eagles are mystical, or something like that.
Eagles 20, Panthers 16
Dr. Z's Inside Football, every week during the season at
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER COLD TRUTH Linebacker Tedy Bruschi and the Patriots will haveenough defense to slow the Colts' express.