By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 22, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH -- One of these days, 45 minutes of defense won't get the job done in the end.

For the second straight week, the Patriots were able to get away with giving up a ton of fourth quarter touchdowns to an elite team in a game the Patriots seemed to have locked up. They allowed 21 fourth quarter points last week in Pittsburgh, then watched Peyton Manning score two relatively easy touchdowns in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. That's five fourth quarter touchdowns in the last two games against two teams who figure to challenge the Patriots for AFC supremacy in 2010. Yet the Patriots are 2-0 in those games, and the good times continue to roll down yonder in Foxborough.

Manning should have made it two weeks in a row with three TDs in the final stanza. At the very least, the greatest kicker in Patriot history should have kicked a game-tying field goal. Instead, Manning suffered his third interception of the evening with 31 seconds left, and the Patriots hung on for a 31-28 win over the Indianapolis Colts. The last three times the Patriots beat the Colts in the regular season, they went on to the Super Bowl in that season. The Patriots did what they had to do against Manning all game long and built a 31-14 lead against the Colts, but had to hang on in the end as Manning literally threw the game away on his worst pass of the night.

Facing first and ten at the Patriot 24, Manning had plenty of time and timeouts to at least give Adam Vinatieri a chance to send the game into overtime. But a furious outside pass rush from Jermaine Cunningham forced Manning to throw the ball much earlier than he wanted to. Manning floated a dying quail into the right flat, and James Sanders made a leaping grab to make the pick and seal the win for the Patriots.

Despite making the claim that attacking the receivers was the way to go and not attacking Manning, it was a rush on Manning that produced the game-sealing win. It worked that one time, but all that did was produce the final pick. It wasn't why the Patriots had built the big lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Patriots built that big lead thanks to an aggressive defense which did indeed put pressure on the Colt receivers. Manning was sacked zero times, but never really hurt the Patriots until the defense backed off in the fourth quarter. Austin Collie, who was coldcocked last week against Cincinnati and suffered a concussion, was knocked out of Sunday night's game due to concerns over suffering another head injury. Pierre Garcon and Jason Tamme never really got into a groove, while Reggie Wayne and Collie had only five catches each in the first half. The secondary played the receivers tight, and what they allowed were typical Manning passes that only he can complete.

But in the fourth quarter, Manning began to find open receivers with alarming frequency, hitting at one point ten passes in a row. Blair White would catch both fourth quarter touchdown throws from Manning to cut a 31-14 deficit to 31-28. Patriot Nation was having alarming flashbacks to 2009, as it was that exact Patriot lead which turned into a 35-34 Colt win. Defensive backs suddenly gave cushions, not wanting to give up anything deep. Manning responded with two drives that both covered 73 yards and both took less than two and a half minutes each. Everything the defense did right up until the fourth quarter, they didn't do in the final period.

Against Pittsburgh, the Patriots didn't care because they were able to match score for score with the Steelers. But against Indianapolis, the Patriots went to sleep offensively as they went through a three-and-out and a four-and-out while the Colts were rallying. Tom Brady, who otherwise had another stellar game up to this point, killed off the first drive with a lousy throw to Deion Branch, and nearly had the second drive done in with an interception by Tyjuan Hagler.

But the Patriots made the plays in the end which won the game, and Brady simply outplayed Manning all game long. Manning had three interceptions total despite throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns. An overthrown ball in the first quarter was picked off by Brandon Meriweather, and a deep right sideline ball was snatched by Devin McCourty in the third period. Manning basically took responsibility for all three picks in his postgame press conference.

Brady only threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns, but finished with a passer rating just under 27 points higher than Manning. He once again managed a brilliant game, far outclassing a top AFC gunslinger for the second straight week. He made literally no mistakes, and was able to carve up the Colt defense easier than Manning did to the Patriots.

What also helped the Patriot cause was the running game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown, and Danny Woodhead scored on a nifty 36-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. As a team, the Patriots rushed for 168 yards and averaged just a shade under five yards per carry. This rushing attack, a lot of which came between the tackles, helped keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the Colt bookend pass rushers, off of Brady all game long but for one sack of Brady by Freeney.

The Patriots are now 8-2 while the Colts are 6-4. It would seem that if these two teams meet again, it will be in Foxborough and not Indianapolis. As previously stated, the Patriots have fared well in January when they beat the Colts in the regular season. Manning is 0-2 against the Patriots in the postseason in Foxborough.

The Patriots have only a few days off before heading to Detroit for a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Lions. It will be the third trip to Detroit on Turkey Day for the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era, with the team losing in 2000 in Brady's debut game and winning in 2004 with throwback uniforms. The Lions are still a bad team, but a team on the rise nonetheless.

If the Patriots have anything to be thankful for, it's for Brady, Belichick and a young defense that is slowly but surely learning to play the game right. But part of playing the game right includes all sixty minutes. The Patriots need to put an opponent away when they have the big lead, not just get the big lead and hang on for dear life.

So, when next you see the Patriots again, it's pass the stuffing, don't hog all the rolls, and was that Danny Woodhead again making another big play?


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