Happy ending for Patriots in win over Colts
FOXBOROUGH -- The Tom Brady-Peyton Manning debate rages on, but in the end it was the defense -- in a game that featured little of it -- that won the day for the Patriots, not their Canton-bound quarterback.
The Patriots defense intercepted Manning three times, the last a James Sanders interception at the New England 6-yard line that preserved a 31-28 victory over the arch rival Indianapolis Colts today at Gillette Stadium. The win allowed the Patriots to keep pace with the New York Jets, who pulled off a miracle victory over Houston in the Meadowlands at about the same time the national anthem was being sung in Foxborough. The teams are tied for first place in the AFC East at 8-2.
"It was great. Would've been a lot sweeter if we'd done something in the fourth quarter there to help our defense, but you play these guys, we knew it was going to come down to the end, as always," Brady said. "We started fast, wish we would have executed a little better there in the second half, but anytime you play these guys, you've got to play to the end, and that's what it came down to."
Sanders's key interception came with 31 seconds remaining and the Colts already at the New England 24 and in range for a potential game-tying field goal from Adam Vinatieri. The pick prevented a replay of last year's heartrending collapse against the Colts for the Patriots.
"Me and Gary Guyton had to double on the tight end, and looking through [Jacob] Tamme, at Peyton, I saw that he saw, once I stepped down, that he had one on one with the corner, so I tried to drop back at the last second and help," Sanders said. "Gary had a big jam on the tight end. Gave me a chance to sit back and read Peyton, and an opportunity to make a play."
"It's a great feeling to win that game today. It was a great job by the players. James, really ... that was a tremendous interception there he had at the end. As it always does with the Colts, it came right down to the wire," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
It didn't seem like that was going to be the case following Manning's second interception
following Manning's second interception -- the result of a miscommunication with wide receiver Pierre Garcon -- that set up a 25-yard field goal that gave the Patriots a 31-14 lead with 10:23 to go. It was the same lead they held last year in Indianapolis before losing.
Putting the stake through the heart of Manning (38 of 52 for 396 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) and the Colts is never easy, as the Patriots learned last year with their heartache in the Hoosier State. It wasn't easy on home turf this time.
It felt like deja vu when Manning hit Blair White with a pair of touchdowns passes that took a total of 4:44 to pull the Colts within 31-28 with 4:46 remaining. The first was a 5-yard touchdown toss, and the second was a diving reception from 18 yards out following an ill-advised personal foul penalty by Tully Banta-Cain that was tacked on to a 17-yard completion from Manning to Garcon on third-and-9.
"It came right down to the wire. They're an outstanding football team," Belichick said. "They really do a good job, got to give them a lot of credit, but you know, our guys just made a few more plays than they did today, really happy to get the win. We've got a quick turn turnaround here, so we can't stay on this one very long, but we'll enjoy it here for a couple hours."
For three quarters it was Patriot utopia.
After three, the Patriots led 28-14, and Brady had as many incompletions (two) as Manning had interceptions. The Patriots had punted just once. They were outplaying the undermanned Colts, and Brady, who finished 19 of 25 for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns, was outplaying Manning.
While the passing pyrotechnics of the War of 18/12 were taking center stage, Danny Woodhead put the Patriots up by two touchdowns with 1:11 left in the third quarter, knifing through the Colts defense for a nifty 36-yard touchdown run, New England's longest run of the season. For good measure, Woodhead then made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff, much to the delight of the frozen Foxborough Faithful.
"They've done a great job," Brady said of Woodhead and fellow running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. "[They have] great vision, they're tough runners. The offensive line is doing a heck of a job blocking. They're getting a lot of opportunities because we're running the ball. It's just not a drop back and throw it every time, so you know, it's certainly important. Especially in a game like this, you've got to be able to run the ball and we found ways to do it."
The Patriots took the path of least resistance -- the Colts' defense -- in the first half, scoring the first three times they touched the ball to jump out to a 21-7 lead. Yet the lead was only a precarious 21-14 after Manning hit a double-covered Reggie Wayne with a pinpoint 11-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left in the half.
Such is life playing against Manning, who could score points with the kids he was throwing to in that infamous "Saturday Night Live" spoof of the NFL's United Way commercials, which is practically what he had to work with outside of Wayne. Manning lost wide receiver Austin Collie in the first half to another concussion.
It was Brady (12 of 14 for 131 yards and two touchdowns) who drew first blood in his marquee matchup with Manning, and it was a Manning miscue that
set the stage. Manning was picked off in Patriots' territory by safety Brandon Meriweather, who returned the ball to the Indianapolis 32. Four plays later, Brady found wide receiver Wes Welker, who had lined up in the backfield before motioning out, down the seam for a 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 New England lead seven minutes in.
Brady extended the Patriots' lead early in the second quarter with his second touchdown toss of the game, finding Aaron Hernandez -- who just stretched across the goal line -- on third and goal from the 8. The 15-play drive was a double-win for the Patriots, as not only did it register points, it kept the ever-dangerous Manning on the pine for 7 minutes and 46 seconds.
Manning, who was handicapped by the absences of his Patriot-killing tight end Dallas Clark and a nonexistent run game without Joseph Addai (10 rushes for 9 yards in the first half), finally issued a rebuttal to Brady on the ensuing possession. He found Gijon Robinson for a 1-yard touchdown to cut the Patriots' lead to 14-7 with 7:53 left in the first half.
The good feelings on the Colts bench didn't last long, as the Patriots sliced through the injured and inept Indianapolis defense like a Ginsu knife through a marshmallow. Green-Ellis (21 rushes for 96 yards and a score) broke through from 5 yards out with 3:34 left before the half to put the Patriots up 21-7.
But Manning wasn't done, completing 8 of 10 passes to put the Colts back in the end zone in just 3:30 and the Patriots back on their heels heading into halftime.
It was a preview of what was to come later on, but just like last year, the Patriots had a different ending in mind for Manning and the Colts in the second half.
A happy one.