Tom Brady has won 25 consecutive regular-season starts at home, tying Brett Favre's NFL record. But Peyton Manning and the Colts made him sweat it out until the final moments.
Brady completed 19 of 25 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns, and James Sanders's interception of a Manning pass deep in Patriots territory in the final minute secured the Patriots' thrilling 31-28 victory over their chief non-division rival today at Gillette Stadium.
Manning completed 38 of 52 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns as the Colts nearly rallied from a 28-14 deficit after three quarters, outscoring the Patriots 14-3 in the fourth.
But he also threw three interceptions, including Sanders's leaping, game-saving grab at the 6-yard-line with 31 seconds remaining.
The Patriots, now 8-2 and tied atop the AFC East with the New York Jets, got 96 yards rushing from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and 69 more from Danny Woodhead, while Deion Branch was the leading receiver with seven catches for 70 yards. The Colts dropped to 6-4 but lead the AFC South.
FINAL SCORE, PATRIOTS 31, COLTS 28: The Patriots run out the clock to secure their eighth win, and . . . exhale. Peyton Manning had the bigger statistical day, completing 38 of 52 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions, including the clincher to Sanders. Tom Brady improves to 9-4 against Manning and the Colts, and the Patriots improve to 8-2. We'll be back with much more shortly, to be sure to keep checking back in right here at Extra Points.
0:31: And the save goes to James Sanders. With the Colts at the Patriots 20 and seemed set to at least attempt a makeable tying field goal, Manning's pass intended for Garcon is picked off by the Patriots' safety with a leaping catch. In a game of numerous big plays, there's the biggest one right there. You can exhale now.
1:03: Second and 7 from the 49 after 5-yard penalty on Ryan Diem for a false start.
1:53: Donald Brown picks up eight up the middle. The Colts are at the 45. They probably need 15-20 more yards to be in Vinatieri's range. His long this year is 48. By the way, Manning has completed 12 of 14 passes this quarter.
2:00: The Colts, who have been rolling since going to the hurry-up, have the ball at the New England 47 after a 17-yard pass from Manning to Tamme. This would be a good time for Garcon to run another bad route.
2:33: The Patriots go three-and-out . . . and it could have been worse, actually. Brady's third-and-7 pass from their own 32 hits Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler in the midsection, but he can't hold on to the pass. Mesko is on to punt. Gulp.
4:45 fourth quarter, PATRIOTS 31, COLTS 28: And on the very next play after the penalty, Manning hits Blair White down the middle, and he makes an easy catch with Patrick Chung in coverage. That's two touchdowns in less than four minutes for the Colts. Hate to bring it up, but it's hard not to think about some of the Patriots' blown leads against the Colts in recent years, including last year and the 2006 AFC Championship game.
5:45: Vince Wilfork stops Brown for a 2-yard-loss on second down, bringing up a third and 9, but Manning finds Garcon -- who is in the right place this time -- at the Patriots 33, and the Colts get 15 more yards on an unneccessary roughness call on Tully Banta-Cain, moving the ball to the Patriots 18. Banta-Cain shoved down a Colts lineman after the whistle. It's the first time we recall Banta-Cain's name being called today.
6:48: Starting the Patriots 27, Manning immediately hits Jarvarris James for 18 yards, then they slip into Patriots territory with a 7-yard pass to Tamme. Patriots can't allow another sub-3-minute drive here.
7:17: The Patriots will punt it back to the Colts after Branch can't hold on to Brady's third and 4 pass at the 28.
7:33: Stoppage in play while the Colts' Jared Lacey is helped off the field.
7:57 fourth quarter, PATRIOTS 31, COLTS 21: Just what the Patriots didn't want to happen -- a quick Indy march to the end zone. Taking up just 2:26 on the clock, Manning finishes off a stunningly efficient 7-play, 73-yard drive with a 5-yard TD pass to Blair White. The 36-yard run by Brown was obviously the key play. Now the Patriots start their drive on their own 23.
9:19: Donald Brown breaks off a 36-yard run on third and 4 -- more than twice his total of 17 yards on 12 previous carries, and the Colts have a first down at the Patriots 12. Just when you think you've got 'em . . .
10:23, PATRIOTS 31, COLTS 14: A promising drive stalls at the Colts 7 when Brady's pass goes through the hands of Julian Edelman on third and 6, but Shayne Graham salvages things with a 25-yard field goal. McCourty's pick might stand as the pivotal play of the game so far.
14:38 fourth quarter: Green-Ellis rips off his longest run of the day, a 16-yarder off left tackle to get to the Indy 40. He now has 72 yards on 15 carries. Let's see if the Patriots, with a two-touchdown lead, try to take some time off the clock. Remember, Brady is pretty much pitching a perfect game, with 18 completions in 20 attempts.
0:18: Devin McCourty picks off his team-leading third pass of the season, making a leaping grab and staying inbounds along the sideline to give the Patriots the ball at their 39. Pretty good play for just a special teams player. For the second time today, it looked like Manning and Garcon read the play differently, with Garcon appearing to cut off his route 15 yards short of the throw. There was no receiver in the vicinity, though the announcement in the press box said it was Tamme.
1:11 third quarter, PATRIOTS 28, COLTS 14: Well, Danny Woodhead knows what to do in the open field, doesn't he? Cutting off right tackle after taking the handoff up the middle, he fakes Colts cornerback Aaron Franscisco out of his horseshoe helmet, breaks another tackle, and, escorted by Wes Welker, beats the Colts defense to the right pylon for the score. The 36-yard run is the Patriots' first of 25 or more yards in the past 20 games, and the lead is back to two touchdowns.
2:33: After a 7-yard pass to Brady for another first down, Brady is now 17 of 19 for 181 yards. That's an 88.9 percent completion percentage.
4:35: Make that 7 of 8 for the Patriots on third down, with Short-Yardage Sammy Morris charging ahead for 4 yards on third and 1. On the ensuing series of downs, Danny Woodhead's 9-yard reception provides the Patriots with another first down at their own 46.
6:01: Wait . . . they do get off the field on third down. Manning, who has been killing the Patriots by rolling right, throws deep down the sideline for Garcon, but McCourty is there in coverage, and the pass falls incomplete. Manning, looking for a flag on McCourty, shakes his head walking off the field (some have been known to call it the Manning Face). The Colts are now 7 of 10 on third down. It should be noted that the Patriots are 6 of 7.
7:15: Manning is picking the Patriots apart over the middle of the field. On third and 2, he completes a 14-yard pass to a wide-open Jacob Tamme to get the ball into Patriots territory at the 47. The Colts haven't been able to run the ball (20 yards on 15 carries), but he has all day to throw, and the Patriots can't get off the field on third down.
10:28:No such luck, with Donald Brown picking up the first down at the Patriots 20 with a 4-yard run on third and 1. He now has 12 yards on 10 carries.
11:54: A Patriots drive stalls for the first time today. Zoltan Mesko boots a 45-yarder that Brandon James returns for no gain, and after a penalty on the Colts on the punt is tacked on, Manning and Co. start at their own 7. The Patriots, who allowed five third-down conversions on their last drive, could really use a three-and-out here.
13:31: The Colts finally get to Brady, with Freeney all over the quarterback after he tries to set up following a play-action fake. Amazing how quick Freeney remains at age 30.
14:48: Patriots start at their own 27 after a 19-yard return by Tate, who looked headed for more before he tripped over blocker Rob Gronkowski's foot.
Halftime: The Patriots have to be both encouraged and frustrated heading into the locker room with a 21-14 lead. They've moved the ball at will against the injury-plagued Colts defense, finding the end zone on all three of their possessions. Brady has completed 12 of 14 passes for 131 yards and two TDs, and one of the incompletions was a drop of a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone by Branch.
Yet the seven-point margin is smaller than it feels like it should be based on the offense's efficient performance. Manning has completed 19 of 26 passes for 221 yards and a pair of scores, and he's yet to be sacked. There has to be frustration over failing to keep the Colts out of the end zone on their final possession; a seven-point lead against Manning, even with a depleted corps of receivers, is never comfortable and rarely safe. The Patriots have the ball to start the second half. Scoring a TD on a fourth consecutive possession wouldn't just be nice, it might also be necessary in a game that is suddenly looking like a shootout among arguably the NFL's two best quarterbacks.
:04 second quarter, PATRIOTS 21, COLTS 14: The Colts make the most of their opportunity, cutting the margin to 7 when Manning finds Wayne in the left corner of the end zone for an 11-yard TD. Perfect throw, and Wayne deftly got both feet down. Arrington was in coverage, with Meriweather arriving a step too late, but there wasn't much they could to about that. The score finished off a 12-play, 85-yard drive that took just 3:30.
0:35: Potentially costly missed tackle by Arrington, who allows Wayne to go 28 yards on third and 10, the last 20 or so coming after he slipped from the cornerback's grasp. Colts have it at the Pats 11.
0:58: Manning has the Colts on the move, picking up a first down with a 6-yard completion to White for a first down at the Patriots 49. The Patriots are in their nickel package, with safeties Chung, Meriweather, and James Sanders joining McCourty and Arrington in coverage.
2:00: Austin Collie, who has a team-high five catches for 60 yards for the Colts, has his pads off on the Indy sideline. Looks like his day is over.
3:34 second quarter, PATRIOTS 21, COLTS 0: The perception coming into the game is that the Colts, ranked 29th in the NFL in run defense, would be particularly vulnerable to the ground game today. The Patriots just confirmed that perception on their third score of the day, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis finishing off an 8-play, 65-yard answer-to-the-Colts-answer with a 5-yard touchdown run right up the gut of the Colts' defense. Green-Ellis now has 42 yards on 10 carries, and the Patriots have a touchdown on all three of their possessions. Meanwhile, the Colts have been held to seven yards on eight carries.
4:04: First and goal at the Indy 8 after a 3-yard gain by Woodhead.
4:56: Branch with an uncharacteristic drop in the left corner of the end zone. Perfect throw by Brady.
6:05: Brady to Rob Gronkowski for 25 . . . Brady to Branch for 16 more . . . and like that, the Patriots are at the Indy 10. Brady is currently 11 of 12 for 128 yards.
7:45: Quick note: Brady's second touchdown pass was the 244th of his career, tying John Hadl for 15th all-time. Also, the Patriots start this drive at their own 35 after a nifty 32-yard return by Brandon Tate, who looks like his usual self after missing practice time this week with the flu.
7:53 second quarter, PATRIOTS 14, COLTS 7: The Colts answer the Patriots' long drive with one not quite so long, but just as impressive. On third and goal from the 1, Manning finds Gijon Robinson (we've never heard of him either) on a well-executed play-action rollout in which Robinson was left wide open after Rob Ninkovich pursued Manning. The score, which came after two failed attempts to run it in by Donald Brown, capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive that took 5:22 of the clock.
9:37: Manning with a little John Elway imitation, rolling right, taking the hit, and throwing across field to Donald Brown for a 25-yard gain. Risky throw, but he lofted it over Arrington's head and put enough zip on it to get it there before Meriweather could arrive. First and goal, Colts.
10:56: Manning, after some histrionics before the snap, keeps the drive alive with a 15-yard completion to Garcon on third and 5 to advance to the New England 33. Devin McCourty was in coverage.
12:36: A play after Collie -- perhaps hearing footsteps two weeks after suffering a concussion -- takes a power dribble on a Manning throw down the middle, the Colts go right back to him, and despite a big hit from Meriweather, he holds on for a 14-yard gain.
13:30 Starting at their own 31, Manning goes right at Arrington on the first play, and No. 27 holds his ground, breaking up a pass intended for Wayne.
13:09: Arrington was back on the field for the Colts' kick return. Bullet apparently dodged, and who'd have thought we'd have said that about Arrington a few months ago? He's been one of the revelations of the season.
13:15 second quarter, PATRIOTS 14, COLTS 0: Brady to Aaron Hernandez, eight yards for a score, and with the second quarter barely underway, the Patriots own a two-touchdown advantage. The touchdown, Hernandez's third in an impressive rookie season, came on a simple crossing route just in front of the goal line and capped a methodical 15-play, 82-yard drive that included a third and 1 conversion at the Indy 10.
End of first quarter, PATRIOTS 7, COLTS 0: Other than the possible Arrington injury, the first quarter couldn't have gone much better for the Patriots. Brady is making quick throws, which negates the effectiveness of speed rusher Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and he's hit on 7 of 8 for 78 yards so far.
0:59: Patriots go with the hurry-up, with a Welker catch quickly followed by a 5-yard run for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Patriots avoid a Colts challenge on the Welker catch there, but you also have to wonder if the Patriots think they can wear down the depleted Indy defense.
3:10: Nice job of extending the drive by the Patriots offense, with Brady hitting Deion Branch for an 8-yard gain on third and 5 at their own 43. A play later . . . hey, why not go back to Branch again? Eighteen yards later, the Patriots have another first down on the Colts 32.
5:33: One bit of potentially worrisome news for the Patriots: Kyle Arrington, one of just three active cornerbacks for the Patriots today, was down on the field after the Colts' last possession and appeared to have twisted his ankle. Should he miss any time, the Patriots would have to turn to Darius Butler, who has plunged down the depth chart in his second season and was inactive last week against the Steelers. Not exactly the situation you want against Manning.
6:01: Nice boot by McAfee. Wes Welker calls for the fair catch, and the Patriots take over at their own 18.
6:46: Manning and his receivers don't seem to be on the same page of the playbook so far, at least with their usual precision. Jerod Mayo bats down a pass that was announced in the press box as intended for Reggie Wayne, but it appeared as though Garcon was the targeted receiver and broke the wrong way on his route. One play later, the Colts drive stalls at their own 35, and late-night swimming aficionado Pat McAfee is in to punt.
7:50: After a penalty on the kickoff, the Colts begin their second drive on their own 13. Devin McCourty, matched up against Pierre Garcon, nearly collects the Patriots' second pick on the day, but he can't pull in Manning's throw with a lunging one-handed grab.
8:00 first quarter, PATRIOTS 7, COLTS 0: It takes Tom Brady and friends exactly four plays to capitalize on the Indy turnover, with the quarterback finding Wes Welker for a 22-yard score on a first down. The TD, which capped a drive of 2 minutes 2 seconds, came on play after Sammy Morris picked up a first down on third and 1.
10:02: The Patriots' young defense is making a habit out of big plays lately, and Brandon Meriweather just delivered the latest, picking off a Manning throw on third and 6 at the Patriots 39 and returning it 39 yards to the Colts 32. It was a rare sight with Manning -- an overthrown pass -- and one has to wonder if young receiver Blair White, the intended target, wasn't quite where he was supposed to be.
11:17: And Collie has three catches, the third coming in the middle of the field for a 28-yard gain with nary a Patriot defensive back in sight.
First quarter, 13:33: . . . and Manning gets Collie involved immediately, catching a 9-yard pass on first down to get to the Colts 20, then coverting a first down on third and 3 with a diving grab.
The Patriots win the toss and defer, the Colts take the ball, and we're just about ready to here at Gillette Stadium. Of all the fascinating matchups in this game, we're most interesting to see how the Patriots, with just three active cornerbacks, defend the Colts passing game since Austin Collie, who was questionable to play, is in the starting lineup.
Be sure to continue to hit the refresh button as we will continue to update this post with news and observations as the game progresses.