FOXBORO -- Vince Wilfork wants you to trust him. Just like Bill Belichick and and Tom Brady insisted you believed them on Wednesday. Their message is the same: The Colts aren't as bad as you think.
"Trust me," Wilfork said Thursday. "You're not looking at a terrible football team when you're looking at 0-11 or the Indianapolis Colts this year. It's not a terrible football team. It's just they haven't made plays."
And therein lies the Colts' problem. They haven't stacked together enough plays to win a game yet this season. So why do the Patriots insist on singing their praises? Sure, they want to maintain their usual game-week intensity. And they don't want to be known as the first team to lose to the Colts. (Not to mention the first team to lose when Dan Orlovsky is the opposing starting quarterback.)
But there's another reason. For many of the Patriots, a game against the Colts is a rivalry game. That's what Wilfork called the teams' ninth straight regular-season meeting. He said it doesn't matter whether or not Peyton Manning is in uniform. The Colts are still the Colts. There are too many memories of hard-fought games with Indy for the Patriots not to take them seriously.
"Were not looking at the record; were looking at a Colts team that, over the years, always played us tough," Wilfork said. "Guys get injured all the time, you play with injuries all the time, you play with key players sometimes that arent out there, so were not looking at that as an issue for us. Were looking at how well we can play as a football team, the New England Patriots, how well we can play on Sunday."
Colts games in the Manning-Brady Era always served as measuring sticks for the Patriots. They didn't carry the weight of divisional games, but they often helped decide playoff seeding for the Pats and Colts, who were perennially in the postseason.
That won't be the case this Sunday. The Colts' season will be done after Week 17. And while it may be too early to call it the end of an era, if the Colts wind up with the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and select a quarterback, they will have to make some decisions regarding Manning's future:
Do they keep Manning and let their rookie quarterback develop under his tutelage? Or do they trade Manning while his value is high and begin the rebuilding process under a new franchise arm?
It's hard to imagine Manning with anything other than a horseshoe on the side of his helmet, but it could happen. And when that era is over, so too, for all intents and purposes, is the Patriots-Colts rivalry.
For now, though, Manning is still a Colt. And as long as he's with Indy, as Wilfork swore, the rivalry is alive. It's just not the same.