By: Bob George/
November 30, 2003

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Guess Tony Dungy is as dumb as he said he was.

What's even worse is that Tom Brady may not be as good as we think he is.

The Colt head coach, who cannot be heralded enough for making a respectable franchise out of a bunch of sad sacks in Tampa Bay, outdid Brady in critical mistakes at the wrong time, and Brady's side was able to sneak by in this electrifying battle of 9-2 teams. With a possible two-seed in the AFC playoffs hanging in the balance, Dungy's brain cramps outdid Brady's arm cramps, and the Patriots escaped the RCA Dome with their lives.

Most everyone in Patriot Nation at this hour is drinking to the good health of one Willie McGinest, who really saved the bacon for the Patriots today and deserves this writer's vote for player of the game (and make that a second game in a row for the emotional defensive veteran). But hidden far beneath the play for the ages that McGinest made which preserved a 38-34 win for the Patriots over the Indianapolis Colts were critical mistakes made by both sides, and in the end the Patriots did more to overcome theirs than Indianapolis did.

Brady was on his way to one of his best games as a pro. He was 16 of 18 for 161 yards and a passer rating of 122.5 in the first half. But two third quarter interceptions transformed a 31-10 Patriot lead into a 31-24 nailbiter, the two scores coming in only a 1:06 stretch of the third stanza. Peyton Manning, who had been flummoxed by Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel all game long and had just thrown a dumb pick to Tyrone Poole in that same period, saw his offense suddenly ignite and catch fire for the rest of the game.

But in the end, Dungy and his staff got outcoached by Belichick, and the ends of both halves showed why game management is so important. Dungy kicked off to Bethel Johnson at the tail end of the first half which resulted in a long kickoff return for a touchdown, and at game's end went for a late field goal instead of a tie game, and made all sorts of mistakes on the final drive which resulted in a stunning goal line stand for the Patriots.

Take away all these mistakes, and this one was a Patriot cakewalk. With 6:12 to go in the third quarter, the Patriots owned this game like Bob Kraft owns his stadium. It was 31-10 Patriots, as Mike Cloud had just run in for a score from one yard out and Manning had just thrown a pick three plays later. In trying to hit Reggie Wayne on a crossing route over the middle, Poole cut right in front of Wayne and Manning hit his former teammate in perfect stride. The Patriots were one scoring drive away from a knockout punch, and the Patriots were moving the ball easily against the Colt defense, much like a knife going through a piece of pumpkin pie.

But the Patriots discarded the knockout punch notion and opened the gates for Indianapolis to get back in the game. After a quick screen to Johnson went for a three-yard loss, Brady tried to hit Johnson on a 15-yard throw over the middle. The pass was thrown behind Johnson and hit off his arm, and Donald Strickland hauled in the errant ball. Strickland returned the pick 24 yards to the Colt 41, and a personal foul on Christian Fauria tacked another 15 yards on to the return. Nine plays later, Manning found Wayne in the left corner of the end zone from 13 yards out. 31-17, Pats.

Three plays after getting the ball back, Brady tried to find Kevin Faulk out of the backfield in the left flat. Just like the Poole pick, Nick Harper slipped in front of Faulk and made the interception. On the very next play, Ty Law let Marvin Harrison go on a slant route to the end zone, biting on a play fake by Manning. Poor Eugene Wilson. No need to elaborate. 26 yards. 31-24, Pats.

After the Patriots got the ball back, they had third and one at their own 31 as the game passed into the fourth quarter. But Charlie Weis gave the Colt faithful another uplifting by calling for an off-tackle run by Faulk which was too slow in developing. Mike Doss made the stop for no gain, and Manning took his team 69 yards in nine plays, hitting paydirt when Wilson bit on a play fake by Manning and left Troy Walters alone in the end zone from six yards out. 31-31.

To his credit, Brady never wilted under the pressure, not that he has ever done so in his career. Thanks to a 67-yard kickoff return by Johnson, Brady took his team 31 yards in four plays and found Deion Branch alone in the end zone on a neat fake draw. The Patriots regained the lead at 38-31. The Patriots had one more mistake left in their arsenal, as a Faulk lost fumble at the Patriot 11 nearly spelled disaster for the New Englanders.

Now, we move to the other side of the agenda, and what Dungy did to slap all his gifts and prosperity in the face.

With the Patriots up, 17-3, Manning hit Marcus Pollard from eight yards out and nineteen seconds left in the first half to make it 17-10. On the ensuing kickoff, Mike Vanderjagt booted the ball deep and Johnson took it at the 8. He streaked down the right sideline and outran everyone on the planet to the end zone, scoring as time expired in the half. Dungy was disgusted at himself for not ordering a squib kick, and told a reporter that it was a "dumb move on my part". This "dumb move" proved decisive given the final margin of victory, as it is something you almost never see at this level of football.

After the Faulk fumble, which left the Colts perched at the Patriot 11 with 3:45 to go and one timeout left, the Colts had a gimme tying touchdown at their avail. Manning threw three incomplete passes, the latter two merely throwaways out of the end zone. Dungy and offensive coordinator Tom Moore eschewed Edgerrin James, though the Patriots did a decent job in corralling the standout Colt back. With fourth and ten at the 11, Dungy kicked a field goal instead of going for it, even though conventional wisdom would have Dungy taking one more shot at the end zone, given that Manning was solving the Patriot defense in the second half and because of the field position following the Faulk fumble.

With the score 38-34 Patriots, Dungy still needed a touchdown to win the game. Perched at their 28, the Patriots needed to run clock but instead threw three incomplete passes (actually, the second of those three was ruled a backwards pass to Branch which happened to roll out of bounds and was ruled a fumble), perhaps showing a lack of confidence in Faulk after the fumble. The Colts got the ball at the Patriot 48, after another abominable punt by Ken Walter which went only 18 yards. The Colts had 2:57 left and one timeout.

The Colts drove to the Patriot 2 with 40 seconds to go. Tedy Bruschi stuffed James on first and second down, and the Colts had to burn their final timeout. With 18 seconds to go, Manning literally had to throw the rest of the way or risk having the clock run out. Knowing this, the Patriots had third down well defensed and Manning overthrew Aaron Moorehead in the left corner of the end zone on third down. It was fourth and goal at the one, and 14 seconds left. Time didn't matter now. Either Indy scores or they lose.

Despite getting stuffed on first and second down, and with a brilliant quarterback at the helm who could make a play fake and find someone in the end zone, Moore instead called for another James run. McGinest shot through and stuffed James for a one-yard loss, and the Patriots had their win after a Brady kneeldown.

Despite great numbers (26 of 35, 236 yards, two scores), Brady saw his passer rating at only 87.3 thanks to the two picks. Manning had a 95.7 rating, but in the end could not overcome his unproductive first half.

Complain about Brady all you want. But the guy once again came out a winner. He and his mates found a way. That's pretty much all you need in the NFL.