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October 30, 2008

Peyton's Plight

Struggling Manning off to a slow start

On Pro Football

Hector Longo

FOXBORO — Now, Peyton Manning tastes the stew that Tom Brady was fed here for so many years.

How strange is it that Brady's replacement Matt Cassel feasts with the best 1-2 receiver punch on the planet, while Manning's weapons wither away from week to week.

New England football fans, teased a bit by the Colts' latest implosion before a national TV audience Monday night, get a closer look Sunday night as the Pats make their first trip to the new $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

As fortunate as the Patriots have been to race to a 5-2 mark — weak schedule, missing Stephen Jackson with the Rams, facing a Chiefs team that loses a QB the same game Brady goes down — the Colts are extraordinarily lucky to be 3-4 and not 1-6.

They scored 11 points in the final 1:15 to beat the Vikings 18-15. Aided by a complete Sage Rosenfels meltdown, they scored the final 21 points in the last 4:14 to beat the Texans 31-27.

"They look as explosive as ever," said Bill Belichick, despite the fact the Colts averaged 27.1 points a game from 1999-07 and are only averaing 21.3 points a game this fall.

"There are concerns about everybody — (Dallas) Clark, (Marvin) Harrison, (Reggie) Wayne, (Anthony) Gonzalez and (Joseph) Addai. It is about team defense, you can't double everybody. You can't set your defense to stop everybody, they have too many good players."

Of course, it all starts with Manning. He's the one trying to jam the ball into a covered Harrison.

And he's the only one who can be the true difference between contender and middle-of-the-packer.

Manning has been early Eli, not vintage Peyton. He's thrown just 10 touchdown passes in seven games, a far cry from the 31.1 touchdown passes (per 16 games) he's averaged the previous nine years.

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