New England Patriots (5-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
STADIUM: Lucas Oil Stadium
WEATHER: Weather Underground Forcast
TV: NBC (Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer)
SERIES: 69th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead, 42-26. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is just 4-9 against the Patriots dating back to 1998, but has won two of his last three against New England, including last year's loss. The Patriots have not played at Lucas Oil Stadium yet, so Sunday will be their first visit.
PREDICTION: Colts 21-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Colts are expected to get SS Bob Sanders back just in time. They are allowing 144.1 rushing yards per game, while the Patriots have been more committed to the run to help QB Matt Cassel. Cassel will have to be patient against the Colts' Cover-2 scheme while also cognizant of Indianapolis' ability to get after the passer quickly. Expect him to rely heavily on underneath routes, with TE Ben Watson and RB Kevin Faulk popular targets. ... Colts WRs Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison have combined for just eight receptions for 76 yards the past two weeks. However, the Patriots are unlikely to play as much bump-and-run coverage as the Packers and Titans, who have stronger cover men than Patriots CBs Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal. The key for Indianapolis is getting more out of the running game, which hasn't had as much success on its stretch plays this season. And Manning has continued to be a bit off in his timing when trying to stretch the field.
Key Injuries: RB LaMont Jordan (calf) is day-to-day; Hobbs (shoulder) said he would play; RB Sammy Morris (knee) is not expected to play. Colts: RB Joseph Addai (hamstring) is expected to return after missing two games; Sanders (ankle/knee) should play.
Need to know: Faulk needs 15 receiving yards to become the 14th Patriot to reach 3,000 with the franchise. ... The Colts have their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
--CB Ellis Hobbs made progress Thursday by participating in what the team describes as a "limited" portion of practice after missing all of Wednesday's session with a shoulder injury. Hobbs' status is still in question, though it appears he'll be ready for Sunday.
--WR Randy Moss is also on target to start Sunday against the Colts after returning to practice Thursday. He missed portions of Wednesday's session with a foot injury sustained in the team's 23-16 win over the Rams.
--RB Sammy Morris did not practice for the second day in a row Thursday due to a knee injury that could keep him out for at least one more week, according to various published reports. Morris has not played since injuring himself against Denver.
--CB Lewis Sanders also missed Thursday's practice with a hamstring injury and may not be available Sunday for the second consecutive game. Sanders is an integral part of New England's sub-defense packages on third down.
--RB LaMont Jordan participated in a "limited" portion of Thursday's practice and remains on target to return to the field Sunday for the first time since Week 5. Jordan injured his calf against the 49ers and has not played since.
--WR Reggie Wayne (knee) did not practice Wednesday and Thursday. He still expects to start Sunday night against New England.
--LB Freddy Keiaho (knee) sat out Thursday's work after seeing limited work on Wednesday. Keiaho hopes to be able to start the Patriots game Sunday night.
--TE Tom Santi (shoulder) has been sidelined for both Wednesday and Thursday's practice sessions. His availability for the New England game won't be determined until Friday or Saturday.
--RB Dominic Rhodes (ankle) returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's workout. Rhodes should be able to see extensive playing time against the Patriots Sunday night.
--CB Dante Hughes (ankle) has missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday. His status for the New England game won't be determined until Friday or Saturday.
--RB Clifton Dawson (concussion) sat out both Wednesday and Thursday. He has not been cleared to return to practice. His status for the Patriots game will be updated by Saturday.
--RB Joseph Addai (hamstring) is expected to return to the starting lineup and see limited playing time in the New England game Sunday night. Addai has taken part in both practices this week.
--S Bob Sanders (ankle/knee) will probably start and see limited playing time against the Patriots Sunday night. Sanders practiced Wednesday and Thursday.
--CB Kelvin Hayden (knee) is expected to start against New England Sunday night. Hayden sat out Thursday after practicing on Wednesday.
--WR Roy Hall (hamstring/knee) will not play Sunday against the Patriots.
--DE Dwight Freeney returned to practice on Thursday and will start Sunday night.
--DE Robert Mathis missed Wednesday's workout but returned for Thursday's workout. He will start against the Patriots on Sunday.
--LB Gary Brackett was able to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's workout. He will start against New England on Sunday night.
--CB Tim Jennings practiced on Thursday and will start Sunday against the Patriots. He sat out Wednesday's workout in order to rest old injuries.
Considering how cool and collected Matt Cassel looked despite facing a fourth-quarter deficit against the resilient St. Louis Rams, you'd have sworn Tom Brady was standing in the pocket.
Not this time. Instead, Cassel delivered the first of what Patriots fans hope is many magical moments in 2008 -- minus the fourth-quarter dramatics that leave coaches and players on the edge of their seats.
"In all honesty, I hope he doesn't have to do it again," Bill Belichick said. "I hope we can play from ahead, but if that is what we have to do, then that is what we have to do."
At least now they know they have the right quarterback for the job. Hit hard by fans and critics following an ugly loss to the San Diego Chargers on the final leg of New England's West Coast trip, Cassel is starting to play his best football of the season -- and the best of his career considering this is the first time he's been a regular starter since high school.
He led the Patriots on the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter against St. Louis and put them ahead for good on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Faulk with 3:19 remaining.
The biggest difference is his poise in the pocket. Early on, Cassel struggled to find the happy medium between holding onto the ball too long and tucking it under his arm and running for his life. Too many plays ended with either an ill-timed sack or a wayward scramble into the teeth of the opposing defense.
Two weeks ago against St. Louis, Cassel played his best game to date, completing 21 of 33 passes with only three sacks. Unlike his performance against the Chargers in which he wasted a golden opportunity at the goal line by taking two sacks due to his own indecisiveness, Cassel hit all the right notes against the Rams, scrambling seven times for 22 yards.
While the numbers don't look impressive on paper, he made the right call on each scramble, knowing exactly when to give up on the play and take matters into his own hands. That's the sign of a quarterback who's gained tremendous confidence since his first start nearly two months ago against the New York Jets.
"I feel like I continue to grow as a quarterback and continue to get more comfortable week in and week out," Cassel said. "As a quarterback and a young guy, you step in, especially in this role, with the high-pressure situation that it is with the guy I am replacing.
"Obviously, at first you are a little taken back by it and you have to gather yourself. As you move forward, get more comfortable and win some games, you start to understand that we are fully capable of winning games around here. You just try to build on that."
Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy has announced that veteran cornerback Marlin Jackson suffered a serious knee injury during Wednesday's practice. Jackson, the Colts' top pick in the 2005 NFL draft, has been placed on injured reserve and will end up missing the remainder of the 2008 season.
"The injury was kind of a freak thing (Wednesday). It was really in a no-contact situation even and did some significant damage to his knee. Not exactly sure, but it is probably going to involve some surgery. I think he might get a second opinion, but right now he's definitely going to be out for awhile," Dungy said.
The injury, thought to have been in his right knee, occurred during a non-contact drill. Although not confirmed by team officials, Jackson reportedly tore both the anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus cartilage in the knee. The former University of Michigan defensive back may have to undergo one and possibly two surgical procedures.
"(It happened) kind of midway through (practice)," the Colts coach said. "We're practicing with no pads and he was just running and kind of stopped without getting touched. It was one of those freak things."
Tim Jennings, who has filled in for injured starter Kelvin Hayden at left cornerback for the past three weeks, is the top candidate to take over now on the right side. Hayden returned to practice on Wednesday and is expected to start Sunday night against the New England Patriots.
"That's probably what we're looking at right now, Tim (Jennings) and then kind of looking at our options where we go from there," Dungy said.
Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who has spent time on the Colts' active roster on two other occasions this season, has been re-signed.
"Marlin got hurt without really being touched in a no-pad type situation. Just one of those things you can't really avoid," the Indianapolis coach said.
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