INDIANAPOLIS -- Willie McGinest refused to let a bad knee slow him down Sunday.
With 14 seconds left and the Colts 1 yard away from completing another fourth-quarter rally, McGinest got around the right side of the offensive line and caught Edgerrin James in the backfield to preserve the New England Patriots' 38-34 win.
The Patriots won their eighth straight game, the longest streak in the NFL, and improved to 10-2 for the first time in franchise history. McGinest's game-saving tackle typified the Patriots' charmed season.
"When it came down to it for the gusto, our guys came with it on the goal line," said McGinest, who saved the game just two plays after limping off with a knee injury. "That's how you want to win it."
Indianapolis (9-3) dropped out of first place in the AFC South, at least momentarily, for the first time this year. Tennessee plays the New York Jets on Monday night.
As for the Patriots, each week they seem to find another player to fill in, and another way to win.
"I was thinking, 'It's looking pretty bleak,"' linebacker Ted Johnson said of the final drive. "But are you guys surprised? With this team?"
While Tom Brady played well Sunday, it was kick returner Bethel Johnson who turned the game and McGinest, the once feared Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker, who secured it despite the knee injury.
"I wasn't going to sit on the sideline," McGinest said.
Even before Manning tapped his rear end, telling McGinest it was a run instead of a pass, the Colts were in trouble.
Tight end Dallas Clark left early in the second quarter with a fractured right fibula. Fullback Detron Smith left in the first half with a right knee injury and running back James Mungro, Indianapolis' short-yardage runner, was out with a foot injury.
That forced the Colts to go with something other than their power-package, and it didn't work.
James ran for 1 yard on first down from the 2, then went nowhere on second down. Manning tried to connect with rookie Aaron Moorehead on third down, but Moorehead got tied up on the line of scrimmage.
Manning called timeout to set up the final play and when he got to the sideline, he realized the predicament.
"We didn't have the goal-line offense," Manning said. "Everybody was in street clothes over there."
The Colts tried to run anyway and McGinest blew it up.
All Manning could do was slap the field in disgust.
The rest of the game was just as wild.
New England pulled to a 31-10 lead behind the solid play of Brady, who finished 26-of-35 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, the strong running of Michael Cloud, who scored twice, and Johnson's kickoff returns.
But Manning valiantly rallied the Colts from a 21-point deficit for the second time this season.
He converted Brady's first interception into a 13-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne.
Three plays later, Brady was picked off again. On the next play, Manning threw a 26-yard strike to Marvin Harrison to make it 31-24 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
On the Colts' next series, Manning tied the score with a 6-yard TD pass to Troy Walters. It was the Colts' third touchdown in less than six minutes. Manning was 29-of-48 for 278 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
"We knew that wasn't enough," McGinest said of the 21-point lead. "We knew we had a long way to go."
Johnson made up some of the ground quickly.
After ending the first half with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the longest by a Patriot since Nov. 15, 1999, Johnson broke free again in the fourth quarter, going 67 yards to the Colts 31.
Four plays later, Brady found Deion Branch wide open in the back of the end zone to make it 38-31 with 8:36 left.
Again Manning rallied the Colts back.
They gambled with 3:27 to go by kicking a 29-yard field goal to make it 38-34, hoping Manning would get one more chance to win it.
New England obliged. Brady, surprisingly, threw on each of the next four plays, taking just 30 seconds off the clock. And when Ken Walter's punt went just 18 yards, the Colts had a chance.
But with time running out and the Colts facing fourth down at the New England 1, McGinest almost single-handedly snuffed out the rally.
"It was a pretty good goal-line stand," coach Bill Belichick said. "I'll put it up there, with the game being on the line."
- Manning and Harrison have now hooked up on 66 TD passes, the third most in NFL history after passing Jim Kelly and Andre Reed (65).
- New England has won 23 straight games when leading entering the fourth quarter.
- Manning made his 92nd straight start Sunday, tying John Unitas' franchise record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback.
- Clark expects to have surgery on his fractured fibula.
The Associated Press News Service
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