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Bruschi has become leader of Patriots' vaunted defense



Published: Wed, January 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



His play was a key part of New England's win against Indianapolis.

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Bill Belichick can dissect Peyton Manning's every tendency, neutralizing the NFL MVP's record-setting talent in game after game. He relishes the chess match with opposing coaches -- always staying one move ahead.

There's one person Belichick can't quite figure out, though, and he's right there in the New England Patriots' locker room.

"Tedy [Bruschi] is a very instinctive player. It's not something you really can coach," Belichick said this week.

Belichick is not known to gush, but the Patriots linebacker earned the coach's praise by recovering two fumbles on Sunday to help New England beat the Colts 20-3 and advance to the AFC title game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He is the kind of guy you always want on the field, because if something unexpected happens like that, he almost always does the right thing," Belichick said.

Takeaway

New England led 6-0 in the second quarter Sunday when Indianapolis drove to the Patriots' 29 yard-line. A holding penalty put them back to the 39, and on the next play Dominic Rhodes caught a pass in the backfield and was met immediately by Bruschi.

While bringing down the Colts running back, Bruschi managed to gain possession of the ball and the two players hit the ground together.

Bruschi said the play was a case of "somebody wanting it more than the other guy. It was me and him, and the ball was right there. That was a takeaway. Hopefully, they won't be calling that a giveaway because that was a takeaway."

The play kept the Colts off the scoreboard on that drive and, when they got the ball back on a punt, the loss of field position and time kept them from reaching the end zone before having to kick a short field goal at the end of the half.

Bruschi had a smaller part in the Colts' other fumble, falling on the ball after Rodney Harrison knocked it out of Reggie Wayne's hands. He also showed he could think quickly when he fielded a short kickoff to start the second half and returned the ball 15 yards to the 44 yard-line.

"He has a great knack for the ball," Belichick said. "He has a great feel for just playing football, whether it is kickoff returns, punt team, the running game, pass coverage or blitzing."

Bruschi also had eight tackles, which, after all, is his primary responsibility. It's the second time in as many games against the Colts that he's made an impact: He intercepted Manning at the 1 yard-line on Indianapolis' first drive in the season opener.

The "Patriots' rule"

For Bruschi, it was all he could do to bite his lip while hearing all off-season about how the Patriots secondary manhandled -- illegally, the Colts say -- the Indianapolis receivers. During the off-season, the NFL told officials to pay closer attention to contact more than 5 yards from the line of scrimmage.

The Patriots said they wouldn't be deterred by the new "point of emphasis," and they weren't.

But Manning, who set NFL records with 49 touchdowns and a 121.1 passer rating in the regular season, delivered his worst performance this year, failing to throw a touchdown pass for the first time on his way to a 69.3 rating.

"I wonder what rules they want to change now. Maybe it will be we can't play a game in the snow. I don't know, but they will think of something," he said.

"I was just tired of it. I was tired of hearing ... how we didn't win the game, that they lost the game by giving the ball away."




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