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Offense made its points

INDIANAPOLIS -- Knowing what you have to do is one thing. Doing what you have to do is something completely different.

The Patriots' offensive players knew they couldn't rely on the defense and expect to leave the RCA Dome with an eighth consecutive victory. They understood that they had to do more than just their part. They figured, as Bill Belichick said last week, that this wouldn't be a low-scoring game.

A simplified version of the offensive game plan would have read as follows: attack.

"We saw what they did against Tampa Bay. That was all we needed to see," Damien Woody said after a wild 38-34 win. "We knew it was going to be a shootout. Nobody thought our offense could put up 38. But coming into the game, we knew that's what we had to do in order to keep up with the Colts on offense."

New England scored on four of five first-half possessions. The Patriots drove 50 yards in 11 plays to Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal on their first possession, then went ahead, 10-0, on Mike Cloud's 4-yard run later in the first quarter. They only had to go 36 yards because of Dan Klecko's recovery of a Peyton Manning fumble forced by Mike Vrabel. In the second quarter, Tom Brady and Dedric Ward collaborated on a 31-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play, 73-yard drive and expand the visitors' lead to 17-0. Cloud pushed a 24-10 halftime lead to 31-10 with a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, his team-leading fifth touchdown of the season. (That's five touchdowns in five games, on 27 carries. Talk about efficiency.) And finally, the offense broke a 31-all tie with Brady's 13-yard TD pass to Deion Branch 6:24 into the fourth.

Brady, despite not having Troy Brown for a third straight game, got off to the best start of his career -- 12 for 12 -- and finished 26 of 35 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but with two second-half interceptions that the Colts converted to touchdowns.

The running game was mostly ineffective, gaining 56 yards on 23 carries, with Antowain Smith among the eight inactives. Evidently Belichick and Charlie Weis agreed, or they would not have abandoned the run on a key possession late in the game when the Patriots needed to run off some time.

Kevin Faulk led the team with 42 yards on 15 carries. The Colts' Marcus Washington stripped him of the ball at New England's 10-yard line and Raheem Brock recovered at the 11 with 3:53 to go, but the Colts could only manage a field goal.

"Great call by the [Colts] defensive coordinator [Ron Meeks]," Faulk said. "He had an unblocked guy out there and he came flat down the line and stripped me. Nothing you can do about it but move on."

The Patriots' offense didn't do quite as much in the second half (92 yards) when the players clearly were affected by the crowd noise. "I'm right next to Brady and I couldn't hear anything," Woody said. "It just came to a point where all the offensive line and the tight ends were watching the ball. It got deafening at the very beginning of the game and at the end when they came back. It was ridiculous."

Pacing themselves

The Colts ran 79 plays (to the Patriots' 60) and had the ball for 32:01 -- most of it in an up-tempo offense in which Manning called plays at the line of scrimmage.

The hurry-up may have exhausted the Patriots' defense, but it didn't catch it off guard.

"I thought the players did a good job of that and Romeo [Crennel, defensive coordinator] did a good job with that," Belichick said. "We worked on that during the week and planned for the different substitution situations, second down, third down, incomplete passes, trying to get guys on and off. We didn't want to make it a fire drill, but we wanted to match substitutions. Once [tight end Dallas] Clark got hurt, then it was pretty much a three-wide receiver game the rest of the way. Up to that point, it was more two tight ends and two wide receivers. That kind of shifted it, for us, from being more of a regular game to a nickel game."

Givens returns

David Givens returned from a one-game absence because of a hamstring injury. He caught three passes for 21 yards . . . Tyrone Poole and Faulk shared punt return duties . . . The team reported that Klecko suffered a hand injury and Ty Warren a right leg injury. Both returned . . . Bethel Johnson left the stadium with his right shoulder wrapped with ice . . . The Patriots extended their winning streak to a league-best 23 games in which they led after the third quarter. They've also won 18 straight and 21 of 22 when leading at the half . . . New England is 6-0 this season against teams with winning records . . . Poole's interception gave New England at least one in each of the past eight games and in 11 of 12 games this season . . . The Patriots allowed four touchdown passes after having yielded six in the first 11 games . . . Rohan Davey was the backup quarterback ahead of Damon Huard for the second straight week.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 10 2 0 .833 21.4 17.4
Dolphins 8 4 0 .636 20.1 15.9
Bills 5 7 0 .417 16.4 16.2
Jets 4 7 0 .364 19.1 20.1
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