INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Tony Dungy spent all summer telling his Indianapolis Colts to keep the New England Patriots in perspective.

Despite the repeated questions from fans about what it would take to finally beat their nemesis, Dungy advised against defining their season by one game. Instead, he wanted Indianapolis to worry about its first seven games before thinking about the Patriots.

Now, the NFL’s last unbeaten team will finally see if Dungy’s strategy works.

“What we have to do is treat it like it’s a big game, but not like it’s a monumental, winner-take-all game,” Dungy said Tuesday. “I think we’ve done that pretty well this year.”

Monday night’s matchup could be the Colts’ defining moment. Indy (7-0) has beaten only two teams with more than two wins and only one team with a winning record.

The Patriots (4-3), however, are the two-time defending Super Bowl champions – and the Colts’ biggest obstacle to a Super Bowl run.

Indianapolis has lost six straight to New England, including two straight in the playoffs, and hasn’t won at Foxborough, Mass., since 1995. Two-time MVP Peyton Manning is 0-7 at New England.

For weeks, local radio shows have been deluged with talk about the Patriots’ injury situation, the Colts’ new winning combination and what it would take to end their misery against the Pats.

Dungy, meanwhile, has downplayed the rivalry between former AFC East foes.

“It’s a big game in that it’s Monday night, and it’s against the Super Bowl champs,” Dungy said. “But it’s still Week 8, and it’s still one game. So if we beat them, we don’t want to think we’ve arrived or that our season is over. It’s still only one game in the middle of the season.”

Dungy has always done things his way.

Rather than using their bye week for extra preparation time, Dungy had players like Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney sit out most of last week’s practices. Then he instructed players to spend their five-day break relaxing, getting away from football and staying out of trouble.

Dungy set the example by returning to Tampa for a fishing trip and waited to break down Patriots tapes until Tuesday morning.

The reason? With another high stakes game at New England, Dungy was worried overpreparation could create more problems.

Players weren’t expected to practice until today.

“The people who win big games can pressurize it and do the same things you do in a training camp practice, which is not what we’ve done in this series,” Dungy said. “A lot of it is understanding the moment and playing with a relaxed attitude.”

This time, the Colts are hoping a new equation will lead to a different result. Rather than winning shootouts, Indy has stolen a page from the Patriots’ playbook.

They’ve allowed a league-low 11 points per game, have relied more on James, who is chasing his third NFL rushing title, and Manning has been the personification of patience. He’s slowly moved up the passer rating charts and has thrown 11 touchdowns compared with five interceptions as the Colts have relied on short passes to control games.

Dungy believes one area the Colts must improve is eliminating turnovers that have proven so costly during their losing streak to the Patriots. In last year’s season opener, Manning was intercepted at the goal line and James fumbled twice inside the Patriots 20.

“We have to take care of the ball against them, that’s what their defense does very well,” he said. “It puts their offense in good position and they make plays. If we protect the ball, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

The significance of the game hasn’t been lost on the Colts, though.

They have a three-game lead in the AFC South, hold a two-game lead for AFC home-field advantage and will spend this week dealing with the hype surrounding what most consider one of the season’s top matchups.

All Dungy wants to do is win one more game that will help the Colts retain their conference lead.

“I think it helped our confidence when we beat Tennessee when we had the same problem with them,” he said. “Nobody talks about that now. But I don’t think we need a confidence builder. This is one game in the middle of the season.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.