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Slippery field could trip up Colts

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are preparing
what may be the best defense against Peyton Manning and his speedy
receivers: a slippery field.

The team left the Gillette Stadium grass uncovered through
Wednesday's rain and Thursday's fog. With more rain or snow
expected Friday and freezing temperatures for the weekend, the
Indianapolis Colts' prolific offense could find the footing funky
in Sunday's playoff game.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows a cold front may be as
critical as his three-man defensive front in slowing down the
Colts. But he certainly wouldn't turn the field into an ice rink or
a quagmire just to help his team, would he?

"My job is not to pull weeds," he said Wednesday with an
innocent-looking smirk. "I have a lot of other things to do. Or
rake the field and all of that. I'm sure that will all be taken
care of."

Belichick, who delves into the smallest detail, includes weather
in his planning even though he may not have the final say on field
maintenance.

"I'm sure he's consulted on it," team spokesman Stacey James
said, "but it's a collaborative effort between our stadium
operations people and the grounds crew."

NFL rules say the field should be covered on the day and night
before a game if there is any chance of precipitation.

League officials examined the turf Thursday and judged it to be in excellent condition.

There's a 90 percent chance of rain or snow on Friday in the
Boston area before a dry weekend with temperatures ranging from 20
to 34 degrees on Saturday and 16 to 33 degrees on Sunday, with
mostly cloudy skies. There will be plenty of time for the moisture
to turn to ice before the game's late afternoon start, at 4:45 p.m.
EST.

There are heating coils beneath the field that could keep the
turf from freezing, but they won't stop all that moisture from
making the field slick, maybe even muddy.

"We feel like it's our nature" to play in inclement weather,
Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer said. "We live up here. We play
in it. We practice in it. So, obviously, that's something that
we're used to."

Other Patriots think a slippery field won't make a difference to
the fifth highest-scoring offense in NFL history with 522 points
and three receivers -- Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon
Stokely -- with more than 1,000 yards receiving.

"They beat people in cold weather. They beat people on turf,"
strong safety Rodney Harrison said. "They're going to catch
touchdowns. They're going to run the ball. It doesn't matter what
surface they're playing on. They could be playing on hot coals. It
doesn't matter."

Coach Tony Dungy said field conditions won't be a factor, even
though his Colts play home games indoors.

The Colts, 4-3 this season when playing outside, felt
temperatures dip below 65 degrees only twice. Indoors, they're 9-1.

Last season, the only two games the Colts played in
precipitation were losses -- a light rain at Jacksonville and
occasional snow at New England in the AFC championship game. This
week, they worked out indoors because their practice field was wet,
but they left the doors open for a blast of cold air.

"When the field condition is a little bit different than usual,
I might change my game a little bit, but I'm still a ball player,
I'm still going to go out there and perform," said Colts defensive
end Dwight Freeney, the NFL sack leader. "It's going to be slow
for us, it's going to be slow for them."

Last season, the Patriots were 4-0 in rain or snow; this season
they are 2-0 in the rain.

"It's January and we're in New England. It's not going to be 50
degrees," Patriots tight end Christian Fauria said. "Your best
bet is just to hope it's not minus 10."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.