FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A nervous Tom Brady was warming up before his first pro start when one of his opponents took a moment to introduce himself.
"He said, 'Hi, Tom, I'm Peyton,'" Brady recalled. "Which I thought was pretty cool."
On that day in September 2001 in Foxborough, the Patriots' star-to-be was surprised that Peyton Manning, who already had been in two Pro Bowls, even knew his name. Since then, the top quarterbacks of the decade have been frequent foes.
New England and Indianapolis might be in different divisions, but on Sunday two of the NFL's most dominant franchises will meet for the eighth straight season, the longest streak between non-division opponents since the league realigned its divisions in 2002.
"You look at last year's notes, and they kind of look the same with players and scouting reports and all the different things that they do well and things that we've got to try to exploit," Brady said Wednesday. "There's a lot of familiarity."
That 2001 game, a 44-13 win in which Manning's four interceptions contributed plenty to the Patriots' success, is for Brady the most memorable in the series because it was his first start. It came one week after Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding on a hard hit from the New York Jets' Mo Lewis.
The Patriots lost, 35-34, last Nov. 15 when coach Bill Belichick's big gamble failed. Hoping to seal the victory, he went for it on fourth-and-2 at his 28-yard line but fell a yard short. The Colts got the ball with two minutes left and scored with 13 seconds to go on Manning's 1-yard pass to Reggie Wayne. Adam Vinatieri then kicked the winning extra point.
"I haven't thought about it at all since probably that game, since that night," Brady said. "I'm always confident that we're going to be able to make the play."
New England and Indianapolis faced each other twice in 2001, when both were in the AFC East. They didn't meet in 2002, after the Colts moved to the AFC South. But they've hooked up once in each of the past seven regular seasons and three times in the playoffs.
One reason for such frequency is that top teams play other top teams as part of the scheduling formula.
"It's always a great matchup," said New England wide receiver Deion Branch, reacquired Oct. 12 from Seattle. "I think every year things are totally different."
Both teams lead their divisions despite numerous injuries to key players. The Patriots (7-2) are tied with the New York Jets atop the AFC East. The Colts (6-3) lead the AFC South by one game.
"We've played most of the games (with the Patriots) in November," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "Both teams have been playing fairly well at that juncture during past years, and the games end up being significant games just from the standpoint that they're so competitive. It's still only one game in the grand scheme of things, but it's one that is highly competitive."
Of the 12 matchups starting in 2001, seven have been decided by seven or fewer points. The biggest margin of victory in the past four games has been four points.
"I think if you look at most of our games against Indianapolis, they've all been very -- most of them -- have been very close, whichever way they've gone," Belichick said. "I think the overall competitiveness of the games would, (with) a play or two here or there, (change) things in a little different direction."
"Hopefully, we can go out and rewrite that," he said.
If not this year, maybe next year.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press