Clutch Fourth Down Stop Leads to Colts' 35-34 Comeback Win
INDIANAPOLIS – A new chapter of the Colts-Patriots rivalry was written Sunday night, featuring a crucial fourth-down stop and a second-half comeback for the ages.
Sunday night's showdown – between the NFL's two winningest teams over the past decade – took its biggest twist with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter.
After trailing by as many as 17 points, 31-14, in the fourth quarter, the Indianapolis Colts finally got their break as the New England Patriots' lead began to dwindle.
Thanks to two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, lasting less than four minutes combined, the Colts had cut the Patriots' lead to six.
New England got the ball back before the two-minute warning, but failed to pick up a first down on their first three plays. Facing 4th-and-2 from their own 28, the Patriots sent out their punting unit.
But the Patriots coaching staff experienced a change of heart and sent their offense back on the field. Rather than punt, they were going to go for it on fourth down and, more importantly, for the win.
If the Patriots picked up the first down, the game would be over. If they came up short, the Patriots would be handing incredible field position to the Colts, leaving them within striking distance of the go-ahead score.
Lucas Oil Stadium's sellout crowd of 67,476 – the largest home attendance in franchise history – erupted when the Colts stopped the Patriots on third down. But when Brady came back under center, the fans' mood shifted from excited to anxious.
"Not much surprises me with New England, you kind of expect the unexpected," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "When you see them go for it, I can't lie to you, you certainly get a little nervous."
With the crowd on its feet, and the Patriots leading 34-28, Brady snapped the ball and stepped back into the pocket.
When Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell saw the Patriots were going for it, he said he was not surprised. He had seen New England go for it plenty on fourth down before on film and described an aggressive move like this one as the team's "M.O."
"In those situations, you kind of elect to do what you think is best, and that's what they thought was the best," he said.
The Patriots used their final timeout prior to the fourth-down play, giving both teams a chance to consult with their coaches. On the sidelines, the Colts coaching staff warned their secondary the Patriots would likely target one of two players – wide receiver Wes Welker or running back Kevin Faulk.
As Brady surveyed the field, he glanced past Welker and fired a laser to Faulk. Faulk caught the ball near the first-down marker, but as the running back turned up field he was immediately greeted by Colts safety Melvin Bullitt with a thunderous hit.
"As soon as the ball came, whether (Faulk) caught it or not, I knew he wasn't at the yard marker," Bullitt said.
The officials agreed. It was the Colts' ball.
After trailing the majority of the game, the Colts found themselves with new life. Indianapolis had the ball on New England's 29 yard-line with two minutes remaining and trailing by six.
In the huddle, Manning turned to his teammates and delivered important message.
"I told the guys, 'Hey, we need a touchdown, but let's not be in a hurry to score," he said.
With the game's momentum shifted, Manning hit wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the first play of the drive for a 15-yard gain.
The next play, inside New England's red zone, running back Joseph Addai bucked his way through the Patriots' front seven before being stopped just short of the goal line.
One minute and twenty seconds remained on the clock, and the Colts began to milk it as the fans sensed victory.
On the ensuing play, the Colts gave the ball to Addai again. But the running back was stopped short of the end zone, keeping the Colts from taking the lead, but also keeping the clock running.
Tick, tick, tick…
With just under 20 seconds left, and after attempting an end zone fade route to Wayne earlier in the game, Manning wanted to go back to the play.
But in the huddle, Wayne wanted to change the play, insisting on a slant route.
Manning trusted his receiver. He stared Wayne down the entire play and threw a bullet to the receiver, who snagged the ball with two hands for the game-winning score.
"He just kept fighting through and made a great, extended catch," Manning said. "It's hard for me to say it was his best catch ever – but it sure was timely."
When Colts kicker Matt Stover split the uprights with his extra-point attempt, and after the Patriots' unsuccessful attempt from their own 20 yard-line with nine seconds left, it was official: the Colts, despite adversity, despite a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit, had come back for a 35-34 victory.
"The game was so back and forth, high and low," Manning said. "But we weathered the storm, and we knew it'd be a 60-minute game.
"It sure feels good to come out on top."
• Indianapolis extended its franchise record with its 18th consecutive regular-season victory. New England holds the all-time record with 21. The Colts' 9-0 start marks the third time they have pulled off the achievement in five years.
• Manning completed 28-of-44 passes Sunday night for 327 yards and four touchdowns. It was Manning's 10th 300-yard game in his last 12 and his eighth in nine outings this season.
• Wayne recorded his 30th career 100 -yard game (10 catches, 126 yards, two touchdowns) and his 11th career 10 -reception game.
• Defensive end Robert Mathis registered two sacks Sunday night, giving him the 15th multi-sack game of his career.