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Johnson quickly became a factor

INDIANAPOLIS -- Seizing the moment. Making the big play when it counts most.

A lot of Patriots could claim such distinction following yesterday's 38-34 victory over the Colts at the RCA Dome. If they did, however, they would have to stand behind Bethel Johnson, the speedy rookie receiver/kick returner who turned momentum in the Patriots' favor on two occasions.

Johnson returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown just before halftime, after Indianapolis had scored its first touchdown moments before. Then he made a 67-yard kick return late in the fourth quarter that led to excellent field position for Tom Brady and Co., who produced the winning score.

"A few guys came up to me and told me both of those were big," Johnson said. "I guess the timing was right. I have a secret actually, and I'll say it if you promise not to tell everyone. I said a little prayer. I was kind of talking to [God] and saying, `We need a big one right here.' "

One could certainly question the wisdom of the Colts kicking to Johnson with 12 seconds left in the half, trailing, 17-10. Mike Vanderjagt might be one of the best field goal kickers in the game, but his kickoffs are generally short. Was a squib in order?

"I don't know about that," said Johnson, a second-round pick out of Texas A&M. "I was just happy to catch it and then run with it. I'm sure they thought they would just kick it as deep as they could."

Johnson has kidded with the media all season about his blazing speed. He's often asked after a big play, "Is that your `A' speed?" to which he usually replies, "Oh no, you haven't seen my `A' speed yet."

The response was different yesterday. Asked again if he had exhibited his top speed, Johnson looked up and without hesitation said, "That right there was my `A' speed."

"When somebody's chasing me hard, that's my `A' speed," added Johnson. "I'm going all-out right there."

Johnson broke down the right side and eluded some tackles while the Colts, who missed tackles all over the field, couldn't get him down when they had the chance. It seemed defensive back Mike Doss had the best opportunity, but he whiffed. The blocking downfield was very good, even though Johnson eventually outran it. The play was looked at by the officials to see whether Johnson's right foot had hit the sideline, but it had not.

"The guys did a great job blocking," said Johnson.

Late in the game, the Colts tried to kick away from Johnson, but at the last minute, Johnson and Patrick Pass pulled a switch and Johnson fielded the ball. The Colts watched helplessly as Johnson again tore down the field, streaking toward the left side before David Thornton pushed him out of bounds at the Colts 31.

"I thought I could break that one, too," said Johnson. "At least we had good field position out of it. That's what you're trying to do as a kick returner."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Johnson.

"He had a lot of big plays," said Belichick. "Of course, the kickoff return at the end of the half was big, and the one that set up the winning touchdown was a huge play, too. But don't forget, he got a lot of good blocking."

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