- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- This is going to drive Bill Belichick nuts (and isn't that half the fun of it?), but the season is done. Seriously, why bother with the rest of November, December, January and February after what happened here Sunday?
Order another Lombardi Trophy for delivery to Foxborough, Mass. Borrow the duck boat parade route map from the Boston Red Sox. Schedule the SNL appearance for Tom Brady. With most of the precincts reporting, ESPN.com is ready to declare the New England Patriots the 2007 NFL champions.
If the Patriots can win 24-20 at Indianapolis ... in the Permanent Hearing Loss Dome ... against Peyton Manning ... then nobody will beat them this season. If they can commit a franchise-record 10 penalties for 146 yards ... give up 112 rushing yards to Joseph Addai ... trail at the end of the first, second and third quarters and late into the fourth ... and still win, then nobody will beat them this season.
And if Brady can double his interception total in one game and still leave the field with a 9-0 record, then nobody will beat them this season.
Belichick will scoff at this kind of thinking. That's what scoffers do. He'll purse his already-pursed lips even tighter. He'll let out an exasperated sigh. And then he'll monotone you to death with a brief speech about how Serious Football Men don't think in those terms.
OK, Bill, who's going to beat you? The Indianapolis Colts couldn't, and they're the second-best team in the NFL. They had a three-game winning streak against you, the homefield advantage and a 10-point lead nearly midway through the fourth quarter -- and still couldn't win.
Now you have a bye week at the absolute best time of the season: in the middle of it, after your most difficult game. You have seven regular season games remaining, just three on the road.
You're not going to lose at Buffalo two weeks from now. Or against Philly at home. The Monday nighter at Baltimore will be interesting -- for a half. You get Pittsburgh at home, which will be interesting -- for three quarters. The Jets the following week? The Jets can't beat Rutgers. The only team the Jets can beat is the winless Dolphins, whom you play Dec. 23. You scored 49 against them in October. And does anybody really think the Giants are going to be the team to keep you from 16-0 and football history?
"We got a long way to go," Belichick said, almost daring anyone to suggest otherwise.
Someone tried, but Belichick dismissed the notion that this latest victory was remotely remarkable or a prelude to greatness.
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The Patriots are 9-0 after Sunday's win over the Colts. Here are the remaining opponents that stand between the Patriots and the NFL's second perfect regular season.
"It was a football game against the Colts, that's all it was," he said, annoyed.
No, it wasn't. It was a statement game, and the statement was this: We can overpower you (the Patriots had won their previous eight games by 17 or more points), or we can grind you into yard mulch. We can win at home or on the road. We can play some of our worst football and then recover in time to play some of our best.
"It wasn't perfect, but it was competitive," Belichick said.
This is why the members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only NFL team to finish undefeated, won't be popping champagne corks anytime soon. That's what they do when the last unbeaten team swims with the fishes. But not this year. This year, they'll have to share history.
Don't bother mentioning this to the Patriots. They've chugged so much Belichick Kool-Aid that their stomachs are bloated.
"We're the '07 Patriots," said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, whose recovery of a Manning fumble with 2:25 remaining ended what would be the Colts' final drive of the game. "That [the '72 Dolphins] has nothing to do with us."
It will. Soon the Patriots will have to confront the obvious. They are that good.
Brady had a so-so day (for him) and still completed 21 of 32 attempts for 255 yards and three touchdowns to three receivers. Randy Moss caught nine passes (including a one-hander over the middle, the replay of which should be sent immediately to Canton) for 145 yards and a score. And Wes Welker, who had the most productive 38 receiving yards in recent NFL history, caught a touchdown and made the criticial third-down reception that allowed the Patriots to run out the clock.
The Patriots needed all this and more to beat the Colts, who were playing without starting left tackle Tony Ugoh, starting linebackers Freddie Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler, and Manning's security binkie, wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Harrison's replacement, Anthony Gonzalez, suffered a dislocated left thumb on the first play of the game.
"It would have been great to have Marvin out there," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "They were missing some guys, too. We had our chances."
The good news is that we get to see this game again. Barring a series of surprises, the Colts and Patriots will play in the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium. It will be the de facto Super Bowl, no matter who the NFC sends to Arizona in February.
Colvin was so thrilled about the possibility of a rematch that he almost yawned.
"I hope they lose the rest of the year so we don't have to see them," he said. "If we see them, we see them."
You'll see them. On Jan. 20.
Not that it will really matter.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.
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