The Indianapolis naysayers will crumple up last night's 27-20 Colts win over New England, ho-humming it with predictions of continued post-season meltdowns. Sure, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison once again filled the stat sheet with fantasy football drool-inducing numbers. But, as the cynics will declare, Indy also went to 8-0 last year with a decisive win in Gillette Stadium and how did that work out for them?
But this year appears to be different. This Indianapolis team played the right way. This Indianapolis team played the New England way.
"There are some similarities between other (Patriots) teams and this one," said story-line No. 1, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
The characteristics that have been tailored to virtually every Patriots win over the past few years hung in the Colts closet this time around. Timely turnovers, emotional restraint, and heady execution were the reasons Indianapolis remained the NFL's only undefeated team. This time, the Patriots couldn't blame it on the poor depth perception of their defensive backs.
Maybe it was the simple explanation of osmosis courtesy of the traitorous Vinatieri (a designation evidently deemed necessary by a misguided home crowd, which only cheered the former Patriot when he missed 37-yard and 46-yard field goals). Or perhaps the bizarro reversal of fortune could have been potentially corrected if Pats coach Bill Belichick wore his headband the right way.
Whatever the explanation, Indianapolis did all the little things needed to win these sorts of games. In the eyes of Patriots fans it was downright copyright infringement.
The obvious example of the tidal wave of good vibrations for this edition of the Colts came in the heart of what was supposed to be another heroic, late-game drive by Tom Brady.
This time, the punctuation was instead supplied by Brady's former college teammate, Cato June, who hauled in the visitors' fourth interception of the day with 1:18 to go to snuff out what could have been New England's march toward a tie.
That turnover - one of five by New England - was another hard-to-miss transgression usually reserved for an Indianapolis organization known for its close-but-no-cigar mentality.
"The thing I like about our team is we're finding a lot of different ways to win," said Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy. "We still aren't playing our best, and we aren't playing great or exceptionally sharp all the way around, but we're finding ways to win."
Many of the uncharacteristic Patriot errors and heady Colt plays couldn't be found on the scoring summary.
There was Troy Brown, who last night became the Pats' all-time receptions leader. The usually mild-mannered Brown flipped the ball with just enough attitude to garner a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (however seemingly unwarranted). It was the same penalty later assigned to New England linebacker Rosevelt Colvin in middle of the no-room-for-error fourth quarter.
Another example came in the form of Indy tight end Dallas Clark sprinting over in time to dive and knock a Reggie Wayne fumble out of bounds before the Patriots could gain control.
Or how about Indy return man Terrence Wilkins averaging 35 yards a pop on his five kickoff returns, and the Colts' defensive game-plan often had Brady perplexed while Manning was rarely fooled.
It was, as both sides quickly pointed out, just one game. But there was something about this one game which made the future just a bit more unsettling for Pats followers eyeing a return engagement with the Colts. Which, thanks to last night, will most likely be in the Hoosier State in the playoffs.
"I just think we're just playing well as a unit," said former Patriot and current Colt defensive lineman Dan Klecko. "I haven't been (with the Colts) in past years, but it seems like they have a different attitude. It seems like they're ready take on anyone."
After last night, they won't get an argument from New Englanders.
Rob Bradford is an Eagle-Tribune sportswriter. E-mail him at email@example.com.