FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thanks, again.
Patriots-Colts is like no other in the NFL.
Sunday's version didn't disappoint. The Patriots seemed on their way to a rare lopsided victory in the series, but Peyton Manning had something to say about that. He rallied his team from down 31-14 in the final 10 minutes to down three with the ball at the New England 24 with 37 seconds left in the game.
The worst-case scenario seemed like a field goal by reliable kicker Adam Vinatieri that would send the game to overtime. But Manning wasn't playing for overtime. That's not his nature, and some will say it's his fault. I say it's the right way to play. With a banged-up team, and a defense that had trouble getting off the field most of the day, the touchdown aggression was the way to go.
Manning tried to hit Pierre Garcon on a deep throw to the right side, but James Sanders made a leaping interception. There was no kick. There would be no overtime. The Patriots escaped with a 31-28 victory at Gillette Stadium that will rank up there as another classic in this series.
"I was thinking touchdown there," Manning said later in the locker room, shaking his head. "I just got my body twisted around a bit. I'm not sure what happened there."
The Patriots survived thanks to his errant throw. They are the team flying high at 8-2, tied for the best record in the NFL, while the Colts must try and regroup at 6-4 with two consecutive road losses both ending with late-game interceptions by Manning to thwart potential comebacks.
It would be hard to put this at the feet of Manning. Playing with a makeshift group of receivers, he threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns, but he was picked off three times. He outplayed Tom Bray in the stats, but as somewhat symbolizing their careers, especially since Brady has three Super Bowl rings and Manning has one, it was Manning with the stats and Brady with the victory.
Brady is now 8-4 against Manning, including 2-1 in the postseason. Manning is now 6-10 against the Patriots and has thrown 23 interceptions in those games to go with 36 touchdown passes.
Even though they aren't in the same division, the two teams have met at least once a season since 2003. Their last six meetings, counting Sunday, have been decided by 22 points.
Again: Thank you.
"When everybody is done playing, you can sit back and realize how special a time it was to play in these games," Patriots veteran center Dan Koppen said.
A year ago, the Patriots blew a big lead and lost when coach Bill Belichick had his infamous end-game meltdown, opting to go for a fourth-and-2 from his own 28, rather than punt to Manning. The Colts, down four, took it right down and scored for the victory.
This time, there was no sequel, no Fourth-and-Jackass II. This time, Belichick let his defense make a play.
Sanders made one, while Manning did not.
A year ago, after his decision to go for it cost his team a game, Belichick left the locker room with a dazed-and-confused look on his face. He was stunned. This is how different it was this time: An hour or so after this game, Belichick was on the Gillette Stadium field playing lacrosse toss with another person. He was smiling, seemingly free from the pressures of his trade.
|Other than holding the Pats offense in check in the fourth quarter, the defense was a huge dissapointment. Tom Brady could move the ball at will -- scoring TDs on four of the Pats first five possessions. Peyton Manning made a valiant effort to comeback, but three INTs was below par for maybe the most accurate passer in NFL history. The running game also was non-existent.|
|New England Patriots|
|Allowing the Colts to score two TDs in the fourth quarter has to be of concern. Peyton Manning almost completed a comeback against the Patriots after being down 31-14 for the second straight year. The running game was also terrific as BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished with 96 yards on 21 carries and Danny Woodhead had 69 yards on seven carries.|
|By William Bendetson|
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New England seemed in control for much of this game. They led 21-14 at the half, extended it to 31-14, but then wilted in the fourth quarter. After getting a 25-yard field goal by Shayne Graham to make it 31-14 with 10:27 left, the Patriots had one first down the rest of the game and gave up two long drives to Manning for scores to cut the lead to three.
"After we kicked the field goal, we had two bad drives on defense and two bad drives on offense," Belichick said. "We certainly need to do better in those situations."
That set the stage for a Manning Miracle. Starting at his own 26 on the final drive with 2:25 left, Manning moved the Colts to a first down at the 24. At that moment, I looked over to someone in the press box and said there is no way he's playing for a field goal. He had no plans to try and do so.
Would you? The Colts defense, until the fourth quarter, had trouble getting off the field. Until their final two drives, the Patriots were 7-of-9 on third downs.
Sanders said the Patriots defense gathered when the Colts got to midfield with a message to each other.
"One of us has to make a play," they told each other. "It's on us."
"Peyton Manning wasn't just going to give it to us, so we had to go out there and take the win," Sanders said. "We made a play at the end and we came out on top."
The two teams will not meet again this season. Only the playoffs can give us another one of these classics.
"They may as well be in our division," Koppen said. "For as long as I've been here, it's been once or twice a year."
I told Manning what Koppen said.
"It does feel like a division game," he said. "It sure does."
That's what makes them so special. That and the fact we get a chance to see Manning and Brady go at it.
It's like Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird. The special thing here is this is supposed to be the ultimate team game, yet it always seems that these games come down to those two.
Manning won the stats game Sunday. But it was Brady who won the game.
"Any time the ball is in his hands, especially in the fourth quarter, they're never out of it," Koppen said. "He's just such a special player."
Just like Brady. At one point, Brady was 19-of-21 in this game. The running joke I tell people is that I plan to live to be 100 years old, so I can sit on my couch, wearing my diapers, yelling at the television about the horrid quarterback play on the screen in front of me, comparing them all to Manning and Brady.
They are special quarterbacks, so when they meet it means special games.
For that, I have one thing to say.