The Minnesota connections, led by coach Tony Dungy, and a squeaky-clean reputation make Patriots pale in comparison.
INDIANAPOLIS - If you're a Minnesota football fan looking for an inspiring team to follow this season, you don't need to lower your standards and root for the cheating, slacker-enabling Patriots.
You can do better than that, and if you had been at the RCA Dome on Sunday, you would have done better than that, watching the Indianapolis Colts thump Tampa Bay 33-14 to match New England's 5-0 start.
The Patriots currently might be the NFL's best team, but I'd rather pull for the Colts, who feature admirable Minnesota connections and haven't stolen any opponents' signals.
It was the Colts, remember, who won the last Super Bowl.
It is the Colts who employ the best head coach in the game who hasn't been penalized for industrial espionage in Tony Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator.
It is the Colts who have the best receiver in the league who grabs more passes than headlines -- Marvin Harrison.
It is the Colts offense that thrives under the guidance of Tom Moore, a Rochester native and former Vikings assistant, and whose defensive line tees off under the tutelage of former Vikings assistant John Teerlinck.
And the Colts have the best quarterback ever to play the game in Peyton Manning.
Sunday, they eased to another victory despite injuries that would devastate most teams. Harrison, standout safety Bob Sanders, top linebacker Rob Morris and running back Joseph Addai were out, so Manning emphasized the short passing game, highlighting tight end Dallas Clark, rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez and CFL refugee running back Kenton Keith.
The Bucs had allowed 10 first-half points all season; the Colts had 13 two plays into the second quarter. "I have been proud of our team on many, many occasions, but this is one of the best," Dungy said.
Perhaps the most impressive moment came in the first quarter, when Dungy went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Bucs 36. The crowd roared. Manning, waving his arms furiously, immediately reduced the noise level to that of a bustling cafe, and handed off for the first down.
It was a subtle display of Manning's consummate control. In the week following Brett Favre's record-setting 421st touchdown pass in the Metrodome, the Indianapolis Star ran a chart comparing the best quarterbacks in history, and Manning, who reached 285 TDs on Sunday, is as dominant as Tiger Woods is on the PGA Tour.
Manning will soon pass John Elway (300 TDs) for fourth on the career list. Among the top seven in TD passes all time, Manning has by far the best touchdown-to-interception ratio, touchdowns per game, completion percentage and quarterback rating.
Is Manning the greatest quarterback ever? "He will be," Dungy said.
Dungy could be on his way to more milestones as well. Sunday marked the second time he has faced the Bucs, the team that fired him. Last time, on Oct. 6, 2003, the Bucs took a 35-14 lead with 5:09 remaining. Dungy suggested taking Manning out and conceding. Moore asked for one more shot, and the Colts came back to win, 38-35, in overtime, on Dungy's 48th birthday.
This weekend, Dungy turned 52 and beat the Bucs in less dramatic fashion. Are those victories special?
"The first one probably was, because they were coming off the Super Bowl, it was in Tampa, and at that time many people thought they were playing better than their Super Bowl season," Dungy said. "But today, our focus was just to get to 5-0, get to our bye and get healed up."
How can you not like this team? The coach and quarterback are among the classiest and most accomplished figures in the game, and have we mentioned they don't cheat?
|East Tenn St||64||FINAL|
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|(13) North Carolina||69|
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