EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 22, 2007

Jumpstart the dynasty Priority one: Time to help Tom Brady

On Pro Football , Hector Longo

INDIANAPOLIS - Tom Brady will head home, tomorrow probably.

To San Mateo or some exclusive condo complex in the Back Bay, maybe even a golf resort in warmer climes to get ready for his upcoming appearance at Pebble Beach with the PGA Tour folk.

Chances are, he'll be back hitting the weights and throwing square outs by March 1. There will be mini-camps and he will again sweat and strive toward the Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots had better respond in kind. They owe it to you. And more importantly, they owe it to No. 12.

The gritty kid out of Northern California took a rag-tag offensive group within a whisker of the Super Bowl. We overlooked the greatness, doubted it, even heaped praise on his "improving" receivers.

Once all the confetti hit the floor here at the RCA Dome, after the Colts outgunned the Patriots, 38-34, it all seemed a little empty.

It feels like another year wasted. Another year of Brady wonders gone for naught.

No Super Bowl. No Lombardi Trophy. No duck-boat rides into Government Center.

New England management has to look itself in the mirror this morning.

Amazing how one more regular season win might have changed all this. One less dumb loss could have put this game in Foxboro, not here where the Colts fans really believe they are part of this team, blowing out eardrums like an Aerosmith concert.

At 29 years old, Brady is in his prime. New England management can piece together another Super Bowl run if this Canton-bound quarterback has the right players around him.

We can have another burst like 2001-2004, with the three Super Bowl titles. But Tom Brady, as reluctant as he is to ask, needs help.

Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney are not the lead receivers of a Super Bowl champion.

This offense needs a game-breaker - a Reggie Bush, a Reggie Wayne, somebody who can score from anywhere on the field. He could also use a bigtime left tackle so Matt Light could move to a more natural position.

Tom Brady is just too good. He deserves better.

It showed yesterday. It showed all year.

Football takes over region

Horseshoes are everywhere as game day arrives in the land that Peyton Manning made famous.

A three-inch barrage of snow burst through the region late last night, turning the downtown area into a slushy mess.

Nothing is dampening the spirits in this town, though, not with the 57,000-plus ready for AFC Championship action here at the RCA Dome and another 25,000-plus folks next door at the Indianapolis Convention Center for a national cheerleading competition.

"Go Colts!" is heard on the street, in restaurants, and repeatedly on the nightly newscasts.

That is, of course, if you were at the Hard Rock CafÉ, about two blocks away from the Dome, where Patriots fans simply took over mid-afternoon yesterday.

"Nobody else allowed in, we won't be taking names for another hour," screamed the restaurant manager, over the recurring chant of "Let's go Pats! Let's go Pats!"

"We're already way over our fire limits," he insisted.

The impact of a facility like this in the downtown is readily apparent here in Indy. And in two years this facility will be replaced with a new retractable-roof building in the works a block away.

Today's editions of the Indianapolis Star centered around this version of the Colts being due, that this is the team that "deserves" to finally get it done and go to the Super Bowl.

Tailgating twist

There is a less rabid tailgating crowd here, something regulars at Gillette Stadium may not understand.

In fact, the biggest crowds of Colts fans pre-game could be found in the food court in the adjacent Circle Centre Mall.

New Englanders flocked to the Hard Rock and a handful of other bars around the stadium. Meanwhile, the Colts fans were browsing at the mall and enjoying a snack at Subway.

Rookie jitters

Stephen Gostkowski was a little jittery with the Colts fans mocking his field-goal work early in the pre-game.

While old friend Adam Vinatieri was knocking home 50-, 53- and 55-yarders with no problems, Gostkowski battled a case of the hooks. The rookie was saved by the early arrival of some Colts and Patriots. ... Seemingly 9 out of every 10 Colts fans in the RCA Dome was wearing a team jersey. The scene was an amazing sea of Colts blue. ... During pre-game calisthenics, the inhouse big screens did close-ups on different Colts players, who offered varying reactions. None was more chilling than the wink and smile of assurance from one ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri. ... Those who believe in fate, or coincidence, had to like New England's chances with TNT showing "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson earlier in the day. So much for fate. ... The dumbest fan moment of the day came after Indy's first play from scrimmage. They booed Richard Seymour, thinking he was feigning an injury. Why would Seymour be faking on the second play of the game? To stop the Colts momentum after a five-yard gain on first? ... Despite the raucous crowd noise and a shaky start from Tom Brady (2 of 5 for 25 yards), New England held the advantage through a quarter at 7-3. . .

Banta-Cain sits

Interesting move by Bill Belichick, who pulled outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain from the starting lineup, moving Mike Vrabel outside and inserting Eric Alexander at inside linebacker. Alexander had 10 solo tackles, but the Colts averaged seven yards a play on those. He also was burned badly in pass coverage for long gains by Bryan Fletcher and Dallas Clark. ... The Colts went an amazing 101 minutes and 39 seconds between Reggie Wayne's 5-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter against Kansas City and Peyton Manning's 1-yard TD dive in the third quarter yesterday. That has to be some kind of record for a team to survive in the playoffs. ... Once they did score, the TDs came in bunches, including the Colts tying things at 28-28 on a familiar fluke. Center Jeff Saturday pounced on a Dominic Rhodes fumble in the same end zone the Pats' Logan Mankins had pounced on a Brady fumble in the first quarter . ... Yes, there was a Mike Vanderjagt jersey spotted in the crowd.