It was a punch in the gut Monday night. The Colts came into Foxboro for the second straight year and, not so much Peyton Manning, but the Colts much-maligned defense, smacked around Tom Brady. Maybe that is why it has been so difficult to write about this game: the Patriots, and especially Tom Brady, have come up short in the big games.

The evidence is there: Denver only scored 17pts. The Pats defense, after a horrid first quarter and the loss or Rodney Harrison, held Indy down most of the game (or at least slowed them down a little. But last year, the Patriots should have beat Denver in the playoffs, and then would have trampled the Steelers at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro/CMGI/Gillette Stadium. Also, the Manning Exorcism last year was a big game. When the going has gotten tough, the Pats have folded.

That said, I still do not see anyone to keep the Patriots from winning the Super Bowl. The Colts defense beat Tom Brady on Monday night. The Patriots did not beat themselves. Peyton Manning did not will the Colts to victory. This was a Colts defense that finally got around to stuffing the box to stop the run in the second half and then played very well against the passing game and was very opportunistic.

The important thing is that the Pats are 6-2 and if they beat the Jets they pretty much wrap up the AFC East and start thinking about playing for a bye in January. The Bengals, Broncos, Vikings and Colts were the four of the five tough match-ups on the schedule (the Bears still await), but this team should do no worse than 12-4 barring a catastrophic rash of injuries (knock on wood).

What the Belichick/Pioli regime has done is churn out a team that is going to be amazingly consistent. They are good to win 10+ games every year for the foreseeable future. They may not have all the pieces fall into place to win the Super Bowl every single season, but they should in contention every year.

It is tough adapting after getting used to a team being consistently great. The decline of the Celtics of the late 1980s was so painful and unbelievable to the Boston Sports Psyche that some of are still recovering. The Patriots have unbelievably reached that level reserved for the Celtics of that era. The change is so bizarre: I remember as a kid that I would be so excited when the Patriots actually won a game (if it was on TV and not blacked-out. When was the last black-out of a Patriots game?) I was jumping around with Scott Zolak and Dick McPherson (only I was in the living room, they were on the carpet). The joy a simple victory brought!

Sure, it kinda sucks the Pats lost, but the team is still gelling. Belichick may yet have another trick up his sleeve, and the cause is not yet lost. Look on the bright side: you could have bought into the hype and picked the Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East, or worse, make it to the Super Bowl.