If the Indianapolis Colts beat New England on Monday night, they can continue to argue that their failures against their former AFC East rival have been due more to personnel than psyche. And should the Patriots win, it will be just as obvious that they simply have the Colts' number.
"Obviously, you hear a lot of 'Patriots this. Patriots that.' Rightfully so," defensive lineman Dwight Freeney said. "They've beaten us every year since I've been here. So, you have to just handle it and go out there and do what we have to do."
New England has won three of the last four Super Bowls, and the last two have come after knocking Indianapolis out of the playoffs. The Colts came into those playoff games thinking it was their chance to finally break through against New England.
"I don't think it's any magical or special things that we do, or else everybody would be doing it," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "The Colts are a very good team. All of that has been in the past, as far as us winning. That was in the past. This is a new year. They're the best football team in the game right now."
The Patriots (4-3) have undoubtedly been a good team for a while. And no one knows that better than the Colts (7-0) as they come to Foxborough for what has remained an annual rivalry game even after their move to the AFC South.
The Patriots are 17-4 against their former AFC East rivals since 1993, including six consecutive victories and seven straight in Foxborough. Peyton Manning is 2-10 against New England; Tom Brady is 6-0 against the Colts and Bill Belichick is 7-1 when leading the Patriots against them.
"I don't think you get psyched out by that. I think a lot of times it is just dealing with a good team," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "In the years I have played the Patriots, we haven't beaten them, but not that many other people have beaten them either. I think we have had a team that is good enough, but we just haven't done it."
But this year is supposed to be different. Indianapolis is the last unbeaten team in the NFL and 11/2 games better than its closest pursuer. And even though the Patriots have won the last two Super Bowls, this year they've struggled to overcome the kind of injuries they shrugged off in the past.
Safety Rodney Harrison is out for the season, cornerback Randall Gay has missed four games and defensive lineman Richard Seymour has missed three. Running backs Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass also are ailing.
That tells a lot about why New England has already lost more games this season than in the previous two. And why the Colts have their best chance yet to stop answering questions about the hex the Patriots hold over them.
"The only way we can end that is to win some of these games," Dungy said. "The last four years, they have been the dominant team in the league and a lot of people are chasing them, including us."
Belichick also denies there is any magic to the streak, noting that New England won last year's opener 27-24 when McGinest sacked Manning for a 13-yard loss, forcing Mike Vanderjagt to try a 48-yard field goal that he missed with 19 seconds left. Manning threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
"Well, look," Belichick said when asked about his team's success against Manning. "He's completed plenty of passes against us. I'm sure he probably had to ice down his arm a couple extra days after the opener last year, he got tired of throwing those 60-yarders. I'm just saying, it's not like the guy hasn't completed a pass against us."
McGinest stuffed Edgerrin James at the goal line on a fourth and one to preserve New England's 38-34 regular season victory in 2003. But even though the games have been close, they've all turned out the same way.
"People that win big games are people that can function in a pressurized environment and do the same things that they do in a training camp practice, and that's what we have not done against New England in the past," Dungy said.
"We've gone up there and false-started on the first play of the game when we haven't had a penalty in four or five weeks. We've done those kind of things, which you can't do, because it's hard enough to beat a good team when you do everything right."
Two years ago, Manning played two near-perfect playoff games to lead the Colts to the AFC conference championship matchup with New England. But the NFL's co-MVP threw four interceptions and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
Last season, the Colts were forced to come through Foxborough again -- this time a round earlier. The Patriots seemed injured but won 20-3.
The conventional wisdom is that the Colts need to beat the Patriots so that, if they meet again in the playoffs, they won't have to answer the same old questions. And it would help if they could maintain their lead in the conference so they wouldn't have to play outdoors in the New England cold.
The Colts aren't buying it.
"Who knows how this is going to play out," Dungy said. "We have to feel like we'll see them again somewhere down the line. . . . But it's still Week 8, and it's still one game. If we win the game, we certainly don't want to feel like all of a sudden we've arrived or we beat the New England Patriots so our season's over, we can just wait for the playoffs. That will get us in trouble."