FOXBOROUGH -- After watching every Indianapolis Colts game from the last two seasons, including this past exhibition season, Bill Belichick knew that the pinball-like numbers -- Peyton Manning's 49 touchdown passes, the 6,475 yards of total offense, the three receivers who recorded more than 1,000 yards each -- were no fluke.
But by halftime of the Colts' 49-24 demolition of Denver Sunday, when they had piled on 35 points and Manning had scorched the Broncos defense for 360 yards, even the Patriots coach was taken aback.
"What can you say? They've done everything you can do," said Belichick. "They've put up every number, every statistic, moved the ball up and down the field, scored God knows how many points. They scored 35 points in the first half, so we can go on and on about all those numbers. There's a million of them and they're legit."
Consider the following from Sunday: two touchdowns and 221 yards for Reggie Wayne; six receptions and 112 yards for tight end Dallas Clark; multiple catches for Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley, Marcus Pollard, and Edgerrin James; and even a rushing touchdown for Manning -- yet another option for an offense that provides coach Tony Dungy with a playbook overflowing with possibilities.
Defensively, while Indianapolis allowed 370.6 yards per game in the regular season (fourth-worst in the league), it led the NFL in takeaways with 19 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries. On the other side, the Colts gave the ball away only 17 times.
"They're doing everything perfectly," said linebacker Willie McGinest. "You can't really find a flaw in what they're doing offensively."
What is clear to Belichick after watching the Colts this year -- and beating them, 27-24, in the first game of the season -- is that Indianapolis's offense does not center on deception like the multiple-formation St. Louis Rams. For example, Belichick knows that Harrison (four receptions for 50 yards against Denver) most likely will line up on the left side. And given the ease and efficiency with which Manning dismantled the Denver secondary, the Colts probably could have shouted out the plays to the Broncos and still enjoyed a successful air attack.
Instead, Belichick credits Indianapolis's skill players, as well as the offensive line for protecting Manning and picking up every type of blitz, for providing the Colts with 529 yards of total offense Sunday. From what Belichick has seen, whether they choose to dart past a cornerback at the line or barrel over an opposing defender, the Indianapolis receivers excel in getting open quickly and adjusting their routes to shifting coverage. Meanwhile, Manning's decisiveness and blink-of-an-eye release get the ball in their hands before a defense can react.
If opponents play tight and physical on the receivers, jamming them at the line, they are strong and quick enough to escape the hits and make moves for deep passes. In the Patriots' 23-7 win over the New York Jets Dec. 26, New England left Curtis Martin open for short receptions, refusing to give up long completions to Santana Moss and Justin McCareins.
"If you want to take chances on giving up a big play, that's one way to play them," Belichick said. "The closer you get to the line of scrimmage, the more the ball is going over your head."
Even before the snap, when the Colts are running their no-huddle offense, Manning can spot a defender who might be scrambling to occupy the proper position in coverage.
And that's when they strike.
"They spread out, make you defend their formation, see where you are, and decide what they want to do," Belichick said. "That's the way they run the offense. Can you disguise it a little bit and move around a little bit? Sure you can, but in the end, Manning isn't going to sit there and say, `I've never seen that defense before.' There are only so many ways you can defend a spread-out formation like they have."
In Belichick's opinion, despite their four-interception performance against the Colts in last year's playoffs and a three-interception win over Indianapolis this season, the Patriots will not be able to shut down all of their opponent's weapons. The Broncos were able to defend Harrison with All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey, limiting the wideout to four catches, but Manning picked instead on rookie Roc Alexander, who covered -- or tried to cover -- Wayne.
"The No. 1 receiver is the guy that's open," Belichick said. "Whichever guy's open, that's where the ball's going. Whichever guy's got the best matchup, then that's who he's looking to throw the ball to, and most of the time the guy makes the play. Pollard, Clark, Stokley, Harrison, Wayne, James. Pick a winner."