INDIANAPOLIS—As of press time, the New England Patriots, playing on the road against an undefeated Indianapolis team, are headed into halftime with an all-but-insurmountable 24-14 lead.
Barring an almost inconceivable and utterly out-of-character mistake by head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have virtually secured a week 10 win against their closest rivals for AFC dominance.
No Belichick-coached Patriots team has ever led by this much at halftime and gone on to lose the game.
"If we just keep playing smart Patriots football, I don't see any reason why we won't come out on top," Belichick told reporters, jogging to the locker room with his team as the second-quarter clock expired. "The only time they've been able to stop us is on on short-yardage passing plays, so if we're careful to execute and avoid any situation where we give Peyton Manning excellent field position, I'm extremely confident we'll leave here with a 'W.'"
"Really, very confident," the usually reticent Belichick added. "Very."
Under Belichick, the Patriots have come to be regarded as the team that is hardest to defeat when it carries a lead into halftime. No other coach is thought to share Belichick's calculating, almost mechanical ability to disregard emotion and analyze the situation on the field, and he is widely respected for always having confidence in his offensive or defensive unit to make the necessary play.
"We had hoped to get ahead quickly, but that just didn't pan out," said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, whose eight-game winning streak is by any rational evaluation almost certainly over. "The Patriots are just too clever, and Bill [Belichick] is just too smart, too tough a customer."
"If you're going to wait for Bill Belichick to get overconfident and screw up, you're in for a long day," Caldwell added. "Just doesn't happen."
Thus far, both Brady's arm and the Patriots' receivers have been characteristically sharp. There have been few notable miscues, save a short two-yard pass to running back Kevin Faulk that was bobbled and dropped at the halftime two-minute warning, a mistake that was almost certainly noted by Patriots coaches and will be corrected for in second-half adjustments.
The Colts offense, however, with Manning's young receiving corps, has committed several significant errors. But the Indianapolis defense has fared even worse, and has only been able to stop pass plays of four yards or fewer, an insignificant advantage that a seasoned coach like Belichick will find easy to avoid.
"We have to do a better job in the second half, there's no question about that," Manning said while heading to the tunnel. "Problem is, the Pats simply never, ever, ever hand the game to you. You have to earn it. If we sit back and wait for them to screw up, we're sunk, plain and simple."
Sunday Night Football commentator Cris Collinsworth agreed, saying that the Patriots could basically ride Belichick's cool, conservative play-calling and their tremendously competent defense to victory.
"Even though the Colts scored first, Belichick has to be feeling good about the way his young defense is playing," Collinsworth said during his halftime breakdown of the game. "Holding Peyton Manning to just 14 points is no small feat. It must be great for them, knowing that their coach trusts them to make plays."