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Something missing on Colts' final drive

INDIANAPOLIS -- The game was on the line. The Indianapolis Colts had first and goal at the Patriots 2-yard line.

Peyton Manning and the Colts had four chances in the final minute to overcome a 38-34 deficit to New England, but key members of the goal-line offensive unit were missing in action.

Manning, who threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns, was missing tight end Dallas Clark and fullbacks Detron Smith and James Mungro when he came to the line of scrimmage with less than a minute to play. All three had left the game because of injuries. Still, the Colts turned to two-time league rushing champion Edgerrin James and New England's defense was ready for him.

James, who finished with a game-high 88 yards on 25 carries and 50 more yards on eight receptions, was stopped for a 1-yard gain on first down by linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. On second down, Bruschi and safety Rodney Harrison brought down James for no gain. On third down, Manning went to rookie wide receiver Aaron Moorehead on a fade in the end zone and overthrew him with 14 seconds to play.

Indy, which had battled back to tie the game at 31 after trailing, 31-10, late in the third quarter, then went to James on fourth down and his plunge into the middle of the New England defense was stuffed by Willie McGinest for a 1-yard loss.

"We were down to the 1 and I called a timeout to get into our goal-line offense, but when I got over there, we didn't have our goal-line [unit] because the whole team is hurt," Manning said. "We had no fullback and no tight end. That's what it came down to. We had no personnel options. It's tough, being that far away and we still had to stay with our three-wide offense."

James credited the New England defense, rather than blame the injuries for the loss that dropped the Colts a half-game behind Tennessee in their battle for the AFC South title and possible home-field advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

"I just went in and gave it all I had. They played good defense right there," he said. "They came up big when they needed it the most."

Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday also credited New England's defense for the dramatic stop.

"You have to get movement and we didn't. They made the stop," he said. "We have to do what we do and we just didn't get the job done."

Coach Tony Dungy took the blame for one bad move that figured in the outcome. After trailing, 17-0, in the second quarter, the Colts had gotten within 17-10 on Manning's 8-yard TD pass to Marcus Pollard with 12 seconds left in the first half. But New England responded with Bethel Johnson returning the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.

"We lost some guys on our kickoff coverage unit, and they got exposed. It was really not a smart play on my part," Dungy said of kicking the ball deep to Johnson. "We should have kicked the ball on the ground, or high and short. It was my fault, bad decision there."

Later, Johnson set up the winning touchdown by returning a Mike Vanderjagt kickoff 67 yards to the Indianapolis 31. Four plays later, Tom Brady made Indy pay for the inadequate kickoff coverage by throwing his second TD pass of the game -- a 13-yarder to Deion Branch with 8:36 to play.

The Colts then settled for a 29-yard field goal by Vanderjagt, his 32d consecutive successful attempt, which moved him into second place on the NFL's all-time list behind Gary Anderson (40).

"I give them [Patriots] credit. They are an excellent defense," Manning said. "We had to kick the field goal and the defense did a good job of getting it back. Unfortunately, we just didn't get it in."

The Colts (9-3) can't afford to reflect on losing to the Patriots for the 11th time in their last 13 meetings. Indianapolis travels to play Tennessee next Sunday and the AFC South title likely will be determined by the outcome.

"This one is over," Manning said. "We have the Titans game next week, which is absolutely huge. We have enough veteran guys that can put this one behind us."

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