Manning shines, Brady fizzles; Colts top Pats to improve to 8-0Nov 6, 2006 - 4:52 AM FOXBORO, Massachusetts (Ticker) -- Peyton Manning has to be feeling like a champion. And considering the Indianapolis Colts' perennial playoff failures, this effectively was their Super Bowl.
Manning threw a pair of touchdowns to Marvin Harrison and the Colts' defense harassed Tom Brady into one of the worst performances of his career en route to an exciting 27-20 victory over the New England Patriots.
In what has become one of the NFL's best rivalries, the Colts (8-0) defeated the Patriots (6-2) for the second straight year after losing the previous six meetings. Indianapolis also completed a perfect first half, something the team did last year before eventually losing to San Diego in its 14th game.
"This was a big win for us," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Coming in here after going to Denver last week, it was two very, very tough places to play, two good teams. New England makes you work so hard for everything."
Manning completed 20-of-36 passes for 326 yards in improving to 4-10 all-time against New England, including just 3-7 since Bill Belichick took over as Patriots coach in 2000. But still, it seems inevitable that the teams will meet again in the playoffs, where Manning has lost both meetings with Brady among several painful postseason losses over the years.
"To beat these guys, especially here, has to be a team win," Manning said. "Everybody has to contribute, all phases of it. Defensively, creating those turnovers, just huge. People had been on our defense a little bit, but those guys stepped up and answered."
Brady was uncharacteristically sloppy, throwing a career high-tying four interceptions for the first time in almost a year. The two-time Super Bowl MVP, who had not thrown more than one pick in a game this season, was 20-of-35 for 201 yards without a touchdown.
Brady's evening epitomized that of the Patriots, who turned the ball over five times - their most in more than five years - missed a field goal and committed eight penalties for 81 yards.
"We're not going to win many games that way, giving up big plays on defense and special teams," Belichick said. "We turned the ball over five times (and committed) third-down penalties. We just didn't coach well, didn't play well. They did a better job than we did. It's as simple as that."
But despite all its issues, New England still had a chance to win the game in the final minutes after Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri - a hero on the Patriots' three championship teams and one of the clutchest kickers in NFL history - missed a 46-yarder with two minutes left.
Brady found tight end Ben Watson for a 25-yard gain to the Colts 39, but his next pass went off the hands of running back Kevin Faulk and was intercepted by linebacker Cato June to seal the outcome.
"We were playing a good team and our defense really kept us in there with as many turnovers as there were," Brady said. "You don't really expect to win when you play that way."
Indianapolis held a 17-14 lead at halftime before increasing its advantage to 10 points on a four-yard TD pass from Manning to Harrison midway through the third quarter. Manning began the drive with a 29-yard pass to Harrison and later scrambled to find tight end Dallas Clark for a 35-yard gain on 3rd-and-5.
Three plays later, Manning threw a pass to the right side of the end zone for Harrison, who spectacularly knocked it down with his left hand, cradled the ball and managed to drag his feet as he fell to the ground.
"The thing I like about our team is we're finding a lot of different ways to win," Dungy said. "We still aren't playing our best, aren't playing great or exceptionally sharp all the way around, but we're finding ways to win."
The Patriots got within 24-17 on a 49-yard field goal by rookie Stephen Gostkowski and had a chance to draw closer when Artrell Hawkins forced and recovered a fumble by Terrence Wilkins on the ensuing kickoff. But Gostkowski missed badly on a 36-yard field goal attempt with 1:26 to play in the third quarter.
The first two minutes of the final period saw both Manning and Brady get intercepted in a span of three plays. After June intercepted Brady's deflected pass, Manning hooked up with tight end Ben Utecht for a 3rd-and-10 conversion that ultimately helped set up Vinatieri's 31-yard field goal that made it 27-17.
Gostkowski kicked a 26-yarder to make it a one-possesion game with 6:01 remaining. But Manning directed a drive that took more than four minutes off the clock before Vinatieri missed the 46-yarder - his first miss in his last 21 attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime.
"I wish I could've played better," said Vinatieri, who was booed whenever he took the field. "Obviously, it was a friendly place in the past and lots of good memories. We wanted to get a win in here for many reasons but to try and get to 8-0 was the main thing. It was an emotional win for all of us and helps down the road."
Harrison finished with eight catches for a season-high 145 yards. His TD catch in the first quarter gave him 114 career touchdowns, breaking Lenny Moore's franchise record.
Corey Dillon had two touchdown runs in the second quarter for the Patriots. He and rookie Laurence Maroney combined for 111 yards on 26 carries.
On the opening drive of the game, Brady was intercepted by rookie safety Antoine Bethea on a poorly thrown heave into the end zone. Manning promptly made them pay, finding Harrison twice on the ensuing drive - a 44-yard gain on 3rd-and-15 and a five-yard TD strike to open the scoring.
New England came right back, converting a 3rd-and-20 and a 4th-and-3 on its next drive, which Dillon capped with a one-yard TD run around right guard.
But the Colts, who typically were unable to move the ball against the Patriots, came back with an eight-play, 82-yard drive that rookie Joseph Addai capped with a two-yard TD run. It was the first time New England had allowed touchdowns on its first two defensive possessions since last November's meeting with Indianapolis.
The Patriots answered to forge a 14-14 tie on a four-yard scoring plunge by Dillon. They converted three third downs on the drive, including a five-yard pass from Brady to Troy Brown on 3rd-and-4 that allowed the 14-year veteran to break the franchise record with his 535th career reception.
"(Breaking the record) doesn't feel very good right now," Brown said. "We lost the game, so that's really the only thing on my mind right now. I'm going to go home and think about that for the rest of the night, and try to get myself ready to go for next week against the Jets."
Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard field goal to put Indianapolis ahead, 17-14. With a chance to draw his team even in the final minute of the half, Brady was intercepted by safety Bob Sanders on a deep ball that ricocheted off Watson's hands.
"We always thought we were going to win," said Patriots receiver Reche Caldwell, who had only one reception. "I think we were the better team. We just didn't go out there and show it."
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