The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots will meet Sunday for the first time since last season's AFC Championship Game -- the catalyst of Deflategate. The two teams are in different places now. Tom Brady is showing no signs of slowing down at age 38. and the Patriots are one of the early front-runners to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Colts enter the game riding a three-game winning streak after opening the season 0-2 and quarterback Andrew Luck having missed the previous two games with a shoulder injury.
ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the upcoming game between the two teams.
Mike Wells: You cover the defending Super Bowl champs, so I'll throw the first question out. The Patriots lost a number of key players on defense in the offseason -- Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to name a few -- but they're rolling right along. What is it about Bill Belichick's defense that allows his system to be so effective no matter who he has on that side of the ball?
Mike Reiss: Mike, I'm still interested to see how this defense holds up over the long haul in 2015, but they've certainly gotten the job done more often than not to this point. There's good synergy between scouting and coaching, which has helped bring capable replacements into the fold, with second-year player Malcolm Butler (cornerback) and five-year veteran Jabaal Sheard (defensive end) as two good examples. Talk to opponents, and one of the first things they often say is how fundamentally sound the defense is, and that's also a credit to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is starting to receive more notoriety across the league. You can't miss him on the sideline. He's the one with the bushy beard and pencil always in his ear. He's Professor Patricia with that look, and it's kind of fitting because he's known as an excellent teacher.
Mike, Patriots followers want vengeance after everything that's unfolded, and it's probably not a stretch to say some players and coaches feel the same way. How do the Colts feel?
Wells: The Colts did what they believe was right by notifying the NFL with their concerns over the air pressure of the balls in last year's AFC Championship Game. But beyond that, they've said very little about Deflategate. As much as it makes things tough on the media, that's the right approach to take, because let's be real, the amount of air pressure in the footballs is not the reason why the Patriots have dominated the Colts by an average of 29 points since Indianapolis took Luck with the No. 1 pick in 2012. Indianapolis is trying to downplay this game. That was the case when I started asking them questions immediately following their victory over Houston on Oct. 8. I asked linebacker Robert Mathis about the game, and his response was, “Our offensive line did a good job against [Texans defensive end] J.J. Watt tonight.” The players have been saying it's just another game on the 16-game schedule. Nobody is buying it. The Colts know they'll continue to be measured by how well they perform against New England and the rest of the title-contending teams.
I find it hard to believe that members of the Patriots and Colts will be eating shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo's the night before the game because the two teams don't care for each other. Are Bill Belichick and Brady the type of coach and player who will run up the score if the possibility is there on Sunday?
Reiss: The Patriots and Colts might not be there at St. Elmo's, but can we go? And can you pay? Thanks so much, Mike, it is very kind of you to offer. Now, seriously, I didn't expect Belichick, his staff or Brady to say anything different this week when it comes to their feelings about the Colts. Publicly, they are keeping it professional and focused on the process of preparation. But I'm also a believer that deep down inside, Belichick and Brady would like nothing more than to bury the Colts if the opportunity presents itself, as long as it doesn't put the Patriots at any long-term risk.
Running back Dion Lewis was with the Colts for less than a week last year, and then out of football. Now he's a key cog in New England. What were the circumstances that led to his brief stint in Indianapolis?
Wells: Lewis' time with the Colts was so short that Pagano apparently forgot he was on the team. The coach was asked what he remembered about Lewis during his news conference on Monday. “I've got amnesia, I've got no idea,” the coach said. “When was that?” Let's help Pagano out here. Lewis was with the Colts Sept. 9-16, 2014. He was inactive for the one game he was on the roster -- against Philadelphia on Sept. 15 -- and then released the following day. The Colts had to cut Lewis to make room on the roster for a name you're familiar with. They signed defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles off New England's practice squad. What's interesting about the whole thing is, the Colts released Quarles earlier this season and they could use some help at running back behind starter Frank Gore. Instead, Lewis is on the Patriots and averaging 5.0 yards a carry and 10.3 yards a reception.
Brady is 38 years old, but he's been playing at an MVP level this season. How much of it is motivation from what happened in the offseason, and how much of it is that he's just that good?
Reiss: When I was communicating with one NFL front-office executive who watched one of Brady's early-season performances, the analysis was how surgical Brady was and that it seemed like he was on an I'll-prove-it-to-you mission. So while I'm more of a believer that it's mostly about Brady's preparation and execution, the motivational part can't be overlooked, either. Part of your legacy is called into question over the inflation of footballs, it makes sense to think you'd like to show that's not a factor. Also, in his weekly radio interview, Brady had some interesting things to say about his health and lifestyle as it relates to him playing at a high level at 38 that also helps explain it.
Oh, to be LeGarrette Blount on Sunday. The Patriots steamrolled over the Colts with the ground game last season. So they must have been relieved when the Patriots surprisingly released Jonas Gray before the 2015 regular season. Still, what have the Colts done to rectify those issues?
Wells: Just like the music group Milli Vanilli, Gray was a one-hit wonder who thrived momentarily off his 201-yard rushing game against the Colts in Week 11 last season. Colts fans likely cringe every time they hear or read the words Jonas or Gray. LeGarrette Blount is a different story. Blount (314 yards and seven touchdowns in past two meetings) will remain a threat to the Colts, and Lewis, obviously, is showing what he can do. The Colts have three new starters on the defensive line, and they are three players who have not taken part in previous New England steamrollings. Rookies and college teammates David Parry and Henry Anderson are starting up front with veteran Kendall Langford. I never thought I would be saying this, but the defensive line has been the best unit of the Colts' defense this season. They held Texans running back Arian Foster, who has given the Colts problems in the past, to only 41 yards on 19 carries in Week 5. Of course, since we're talking about the Patriots' running game, watch Brady throw for 400 yards on Sunday.