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Another chilling loss


Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning walks off the field during the first half, after scoring only three points. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning walks off the field during the first half, after scoring only three points. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
David Goldberg Associated Press

FOXBORO, Mass. – Peyton Manning still hasn’t won in New England.

That doesn’t automatically make the NFL’s MVP a loser.

He and the Colts lost to New England 20-3 in the second round of the playoffs partly because they lost here on opening night in September. That’s why they were playing Sunday in blowing snow and 20-degree temperatures rather than on the fast track of the RCA Dome.

So Tom Brady, the NFL’s quintessential winner, came out on top again in this duel of premier quarterbacks because the Patriots are a better team, especially on defense.

The Brady-Manning comparison is apt because the two quarterbacks seem so similar to two all-time greats who plied their trade a decade or so ago – Dan Marino and Joe Montana.

Manning broke Marino’s record for touchdown passes in a season when he threw his 49th against San Diego in Week 15. And he’ll probably break more of the many career passing records now held by the former Miami QB.

But for all those records, Marino got to only one Super Bowl and lost it – to Montana and the 49ers, naturally. Manning has now played seven seasons and never gotten beyond the AFC title game the Colts lost – where else? – in Foxboro a year ago.

Brady is like Montana, who got to four Super Bowls with San Francisco and won them all. Montana was Brady’s hero, and like Montana, a third-round draft pick in 1979, he was an afterthought, a sixth-rounder in 2000, the 199th pick overall. Manning has won the NFL’s regular-season MVP award two years in a row, but Brady has won two Super Bowls in three seasons as a starter and has the MVP award from those games.

But the winner-loser comparison can be simplistic.

Like Montana, Brady plays on a true team – full of guys who make big plays without necessarily being All-Stars. Like Marino, Manning must carry his teammates.

The usual suspects stood out for the Patriots on Sunday: Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest on defense, Corey Dillon on offense.

Bruschi pried the ball from Dominic Rhodes to end one Indianapolis drive and had a late fumble recovery; and McGinest spent the day in the Colts’ backfield. Dillon ran for 144 yards, and the Patriots rushed for 210 yards, a figure that’s hard for any QB to overcome.

That’s the most apt difference: the Indianapolis defense, while it has improved, is built for the fast track of the RCA dome, not a grass field made damp and slippery by off-and-on blowing snow. Manning said it had no effect, but Brady said he had problems.

“I think they were tough conditions,” Brady said.

Manning prefers to use his fast track to spread the ball around – Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley became the first trio to all have more than 10 touchdown catches and more than 1,000 yards in the same season.

That didn’t work Sunday in New England, especially with the Patriots holding the ball for nearly 38 minutes, so Manning is now 0-7 here.

Does that make Manning one of those QBs whose career will be tarnished by the lack of a Vince Lombardi trophy?

“I know people will say that and write that,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “But I can remember other guys who waited a long time to get there. A lot of people went after John Elway for not winning a Super Bowl, and he didn’t until way down in his career. Yes, the pressure on Peyton will build. But it only takes one year to change it.”

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