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Dan Shaughnessy

This year, rivalry has lost all of its horsepower

With Peyton Manning (above) on the sideline, the Colts are 0-11 and today will start Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. With Peyton Manning (above) on the sideline, the Colts are 0-11 and today will start Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. (Brent Smith/Reuters)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 4, 2011
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I’ve heard the Bill Belichick sound bites. I’ve read the transcripts. And still, I can’t decide if the 2011 Colts are more like the 1972 Dolphins or the 1985 Bears.

You know the drill. “Respect your opponent.’’ It’s a mantra right up there with, “Do your job,’’ and it’s a smart way to do business in professional sports.

So we are asked to remind ourselves that the Colts are still really . . . a threat to win today’s game. Vince Wilfork says this is still a rivalry. Belichick tells us we should not sleep on the Colts.

Sorry. I’ll be organizing my closets or taking a nap during this one. There is a reason the NFL “flexed’’ this game out of prime time into a pedestrian 1 p.m. time slot: The Colts are terrible. They are 0-11 and their quarterback this afternoon is the immortal Dan Orlovsky.

Wise guys say that Peyton Manning has made his best case for league MVP this year. His absence has turned the Colts into a joke. When Tom Brady got hurt, the 2008 Patriots were able to go 11-5 with Matt Cassel at quarterback.

The Colts without Manning have folded up like the September Red Sox. They are on a collision course with the No. 1 draft pick, which means that Andrew Luck can be the successor to Manning. Meanwhile, we get this dog of a game today in Foxborough.

Too bad. I miss the good old days of the “18-12 Overture,’’ the days when Patriots-Colts was Ali-Frazier. The Patriots-Colts game was the annual highlight of the schedule. They played every year, often meeting a second time in the playoffs.

Patriots-Colts gave us Willie McGinest and that fabulous goal line stand in 2003. It gave us that terrific 24-14 AFC Championship joust in the ’03 season when Ty Law caught three of Manning’s passes and Colts GM Bill Polian (who hates the Patriots the way Belichick hates Charley Casserly) successfully petitioned the league to change the rules on jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.

It was the Patriots-Colts AFC Championship game of January 2007 at the Hoosier Dome/RCA Dome that indirectly led to the undefeated Patriot team of 2007. When the Patriots blew a 21-3 lead and lost, 38-34, Belichick went back to work and assembled the uber-team (remember Randy Moss) that went 18-0.

The 2007 regular-season match between the Patriots and Colts - played at Lucas Oil (Can Boyd) Stadium - was billed as the NFL’s regular-season game of the century. It did not disappoint, as the Patriots walked out of Indy with a 24-20 victory en route to a big scare for Mercury Morris and friends.

In 2009, the Colts seemed to be the ones on their way to perfection (a concept foolishly eschewed by Indy’s upper management) and we got the infamous fourth-and-2 call by Belichick. Indianapolis’s 35-34 win gave the Super Bowl-bound Colts their 18th consecutive regular-season victory.

The Patriots played the Colts so well, and so often, that Belichick said, “The scouting report looks like a phone book.’’

If you want to take a trip into the way-back machine, you might remember the Stupor Bowl of 1981. That was the day the 2-13 Patriots played host to the 1-14 Colts in the final game of the regular season. New England lost, 23-21, and wound up taking the immortal Kenneth “Gameday’’ Sims with the No. 1 overall pick. The Colts didn’t do any better, picking Johnie Cooks. Both teams passed on Marcus Allen.

It’s weird to see the Colts back in the basement. There was a recent three-year stretch in which they were undefeated coming into their match with the Patriots - at 7-0, 9-0, and 13-0. That’s a far cry from 0-11, no?

The 2011 Manning-less Colts are bad, and no amount of coachspeak is going to make them better. This is their worst start since 1986. They almost made it all the way through November without scoring an offensive touchdown (snapping the shutout last Sunday vs. Carolina).

They have been outscored by an average of 16.1 points per game. They are allowing a league-worst 29.7 points per game and they canned their defensive coordinator last week. The last time Orlovsky made a start, he was quarterbacking the 0-16 Lions of 2008.

The Colts still have Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon. They still have Adam Vinatieri, the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history and the man who enabled Brady and Belichick to work their magic in New England.

But we miss the days when Belichick was hating on Tony Dungy for making sanctimonious comments after Spygate. We miss the days of everybody saying Belichick was in Manning’s head. Most of all, we miss that old Brady vs. Manning debate.

“We don’t care about the record,’’ Belichick sniffed. “It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how we and the Colts perform against each other on Sunday.

“The rest of it is just a bunch of garbage.’’

Got it, Bill. Now wake me when this one’s over.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at

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