FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- In a game in which the offenses seemed to
move at will, defense saved the New England Patriots.
The Super Bowl champions moved within three wins of setting the
NFL record for consecutive victories Thursday night with a 27-24
win over Indianapolis.
Tom Brady was uncannily accurate as usual, throwing for 335
yards and three touchdowns, but that wouldn't have been enough if
not for two big plays by a defense that had been pushed around all
The biggest was the last -- a 13-yard sack by Willie McGinest on
Peyton Manning that forced Mike Vanderjagt to attempt a potential
game-tying field goal from 48 yards. It went wide right, the first
miss by Vanderjagt after 42 successes.
"Willie always seems to be there when we need him," coach Bill
Belichick said of the 32-year-old linebacker, who last year stopped
Edgerrin James on fourth-and-1 in Indianapolis to preserve a 38-34
The win was the 16th straight for New England, including the
last 12 regular-season games plus two playoff games and the Super
Bowl last season. That puts the Patriots two short of the NFL
record of 18 set by five teams, most recently Denver in 1997-98,
with games at Arizona, at Buffalo after a bye and Miami at home
Brady was 26-of-38 for 335 yards and three touchdowns -- one each
to Deion Branch, David Patten and Daniel Graham. Corey Dillon,
obtained from Cincinnati to revive the Super Bowl champions'
running game, carried 16 times for 86 yards.
But the Patriots' defense bailed them out after a horrible first
half, although the 446 yards they allowed were more than they gave
up in any game last year.
Three times they stopped the Colts after turnovers, the second
time after Branch fumbled a punt and Asante Samuel was called for
pass interference to put the ball at the 1. But Eugene Wilson
knocked the ball loose from James and rookie Vince Wilfork
recovered with 3 minutes, 43 seconds left, avoiding what looked
like a sure touchdown.
Then came the sack, enough to win but not to satisfy the New
"We can do a lot better and we are going to do a lot better,"
McGinest said. "When the offense get 27 points, it shouldn't be
That was evident from the yardage, especially on the ground. The
Colts rushed for 202 yards, 142 on 30 carries by James. Manning was
16-of-29 for 259 yards.
Brady suggested that Vanderjagt's miss may have been caused by
But that meant nothing to the Colts' kicker.
"When you crash, you crash and burn," he said. "I blame it on
no one but myself."
This game was a repeat of last season's AFC championship, a
toughly played 24-14 New England win that spurred the NFL to
tighten up on holding and bumping by defensive backs.
But the first flag on a defensive back didn't come until four
minutes into the third quarter, when the Colts' David Thornton was
called for holding one play before Brady hit Patten for a 25-yard
TD to give New England a 20-17 lead.
The Colts led 17-13 at halftime and it could have been more if
not for another big play by the New England defense, Tedy Bruschi's
interception of Manning's pass with the Colts at the New England 6
on their first possession.
That was eerily like last season's title game, when Rodney
Harrison did that to Manning from the 1 on the first series.
Adam Vinatieri's 32-yard field goal gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead
on their first possession, but Vangerjagt equalized it with one
from the same distance.
The next Indy drive was a stunner -- 66 yards in nine plays, all
of them runs and most of them up the middle. The score came on a
3-yard run by Dominic Rhodes.
Back came the Patriots, scoring on Brady's 16-yard pass to
Branch. Manning's 3-yard TD pass to Marvin Harrison made it 17-10
and Vinatieri made it 17-13 at intermission.
New England seemed to take control in the third quarter when the
defense stiffened and Brady threw TD passes of 25 yards to David
Patten and 8 yards to Daniel Graham.
Manning came back with an 8-yarder to Brandon Stokley to cut it
to three points 3:55 into the final period.
Then Branch fumbled a punt, giving the Colts the ball at the New
England 33. But Samuel forced the fumble to stop that drive and
then came McGinest's play.
"We did a good job in a lot of areas, but when you're not
fundamentally sound, it's disappointing," coach Tony Dungy said.
"They stopped us a couple of times but basically we were moving up
and down the field."
Dungy challenged a call on a fumble by James in the third
period, his first challenge since 2002. He lost it. ... Manning
went over 25,000 yards passing for his career in his 95th game, the
second fastest to that mark. The only one quicker was Dan Marino,
who got there in 92 games. ... Dungy's wife was hospitalized in
Indianapolis on Thursday but the coach said she was fine. "She is
doing a lot better than we are right now," he said. ... Brady, who
did not throw an interception in eight regular-season home games
last season, was picked off by Nick Harper in the fourth quarter.
It was his first interception since 2002.
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