INDIANAPOLIS – Eight. Twelve. Thirteen.
What's so significant about those numbers?
The Indianapolis Colts are currently on an eight-game losing streak to the New England Patriots that has stretched over 12 years, during which time they've had 13 different quarterbacks attempt a pass in an NFL game, since they last beat them in 2009.
The Colts will attempt to end that losing streak to the Patriots, which includes two losses in the playoffs, when the two teams meet Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium (8:15 ET, NFL Network).
The stakes for this game are the highest it’s been since the Patriots beat the Colts in back-to-back playoffs in 2013 and 2014. The Patriots, with the solid play of rookie quarterback Mac Jones, currently are the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Colts went from eighth in the AFC to sixth this week, which is good enough for a playoff spot, despite not playing a game in Week 14.
“I love the challenge,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “I love the fact that we’re going up against this team. We know it’s a tough test. On one hand, this is just the next game, but you also know it’s the New England Patriots. It’s the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But what it really is for us, it’s an opportunity to prove that we’re for real, to prove that we belong here where we’re at. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to.”
The last time the Colts beat the Patriots was Nov. 15, 2009. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney were still key players for the franchise.
“I’m 0-fer against them,” Hilton said. “If anyone needs motivation, 13’s [Hilton's number] going to give them some motivation.”
Before the Colts can think about calling it a rivalry with the Patriots again, they first need to make the games competitive. Two of their eight straight losses were by at least 30 points. Two others were by at least 20 points.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and his decision to turn down the Colts as head coach to return to New England in 2018 won't be a feature of Saturday's matchup.
That's a footnote now. The focus will be on Reich's play-calling ability against Patriots coach Bill Belichick's defense.
The Patriots lead the NFL in points allowed (15.4) per game and are third in yards allowed (310.0) per game. They haven't given up more than 13 points in a game over their past five contest (7.2 per game).
"He’s the best ever," Reich said about Belichick. "This is the No.1 defense. It’s a great challenge. We know they’re very well-coached. They’re physical, they’re disciplined. They’ve got playmakers on defense, they turn the ball over.
"On offense, we have to be patient, we have to be opportunistic, and we just have to execute. We have to execute. It’s a great challenge to go up against a defense that is coached by him. And just know at the end of the day that it really is all of us doing it together, but we know we’re going up against the best defense in the NFL really.”
The Colts are third in the league in scoring (28.5), and they've been even better of late, as they scored at least 30 points in seven of their past eight games. It's no secret that they will lean on running back Jonathan Taylor during this stretch run as they attempt to keep their playoff spot. Taylor leads the league in rushing (1,348) to go with 18 total touchdowns.
"Taylor is a hard guy to tackle. He's strong. Runs through a lot of arm tackles. He's very fast. Not many players defensively can catch him," Belichick said earlier this week. "He's really been effective when he's been able to get through the line of scrimmage and break a 60- or 70-yard run. It's hard for teams to count on that in the running game, but he's been able to deliver for them with his speed and running ability."
The Patriots' desire to slow Taylor down means the Colts may have to turn to Carson Wentz more than the game plan calls for. Reich pointed out that it's good they're playing the Patriots later in the season because it's allowed them time to study plenty of game film.
"Whatever you do well, (Belichick's) gonna take it away," Hilton said. "So if you're righthanded, you better learn to shoot with your left hand. If you're lefthanded, you better learn to shoot with your right hand."
Will the extra preparation from the Week 14 bye help?
Time will tell. A victory for the Colts Saturday would be only their second against a team with a winning record this season -- and maybe then they can say the rivalry with the Patriots is starting back up again.
"They’re going to throw a bunch of stuff at you," Wentz said. "A lot of times it will be un-scouted looks or something different early that you have to learn and figure out within the game. Try and figure out, how are they trying to stop us today? What’s their MO, so that we can attack it accordingly. We’ll be ready for that.”