New England Patriots
Pats support Belichick's gamble in loss to Colts
INDIANAPOLIS -- New England's players firmly stand behind coach Bill Belichick's costly gamble.
The Patriots failed on a fourth-and-2 deep in their territory with two minutes to play, giving Peyton Manning a prime opportunity to steal a victory after trailing by 17 points early in the fourth quarter. Manning took advantage, throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 13 seconds left to give the Colts a 35-34 win over the Patriots on Sunday night.
When asked if he understood why his decision would be questioned, Belichick answered with a short "yes." Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, however, took it as a compliment and saw it as a show of faith in the offense.
"Coach is being aggressive, and I love that about him," Brady said. "He gave us a chance to make the play, and we just came up a little short."
It was the most improbable victory for the Colts (9-0) in their 18-game regular-season winning streak, which is now tied for the second-longest in league history with New England.
The Patriots (6-3) have lost five of the last six in this series, one that has often had long-term implications. Since 2003, the regular-season winner has claimed the AFC title four times and become the Super Bowl champion three times.
The game was filled with offensive firepower and big plays. Brady was 29 of 42 for 375 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Randy Moss finished with nine catches for a season-high 179 yards and two TDs and Wes Welker had nine receptions for 94 yards.
Manning, who was 28 of 44 for 327 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, now has eight 300-yard games this season. He passed Fran Tarkenton for fourth on the career victories list with 126, and became the first quarterback to throw 300 touchdowns in a decade.
Wayne caught 10 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Colts' big defensive play was the one that turned the game.
Needing a first down to seal the game, Belichick decided to go for it from his own 28 with 2:08 to go. The Patriots called their second timeout of the drive, leaving them with none, to set up the play: A short pass from Brady to Kevin Faulk.
Faulk made a juggling catch, but safety Melvin Bullitt drove the Patriots running back into the ground a half-yard short of a first down.
"He looked like he was past, and then they knocked him backward," Brady said. "The refs ... I think they said he bobbled it, so they couldn't give him forward progress. We had no timeouts, so we couldn't review it or anything like that."
Faulk said the Patriots should have made Belichick's choice look good.
"He is the head coach and makes all the decisions," he said. "It's our job to execute -- or try to."
The Colts didn't like the call.
"Total disrespect," linebacker Clint Session said. "They disrespected us and got what they deserved."
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney agreed.
"To be honest with you, that's how we take it," he said. "Any defense should take it the same way."
The failed play didn't excuse the Patriots' defense, which wilted under the pressure of Manning's precision and defending a short field. They simply needed to keep the Colts out of the end zone to preserve the win, but they failed to handle the switch in momentum.
"That's part of the game," linebacker Derrick Burgess said. "That's what we do. That's what we have to be able to do to be a good defense."
It wasn't the first time Belichick had made such a decision. At Atlanta, he went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 24. But that was in the third quarter, and those were the Falcons, not New England's nemesis.
On the Colts' final drive, Manning hooked up with Wayne for 14 yards. He let Joseph Addai carry the ball for 13 yards, down to the Patriots 1. He sent Addai inside again on first-and-goal, the same play Addai scored on to win the 2006 AFC Championship game, but he got nothing. So Manning went back to Wayne in the end for the win.
"Certainly, a great team comeback win," Manning said. "Everyone had to do their part. Defense had to hold them at the right times. It certainly was as much adversity as we've seen all year."
Belichick didn't regret removing some of that adversity in the final minutes.
"It's a case of trusting the team," he said. "Give them (the Colts) credit, they made the play."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)