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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 23 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 28 - 11:55 AM

Analysis/reaction: Defense delivers

James Sanders seals New England's 31-28 victory over Indianapolis with a last-second interception.

Offense, offense, and more offense. It's almost always about the offense, these Colts-Patriots games.

With future Hall of Fame quarterbacks on either side, how could it not be about offense?

It certainly isn't about defense.

Not with scores like 31-28, 35-34, 38-34.

Not with net yardage totals like we saw Sunday (467 for Indy, 346 for New England).

Not with disturbing statistics like the CBS broadcast team displayed at halftime – the 2010 Patriots are giving up the most points per game the franchise has allowed since 1990; their completion percentage is the highest ever in team history, as are their passing yards and total yards allowed per game.

No, no, no … it's not about the defense.

Except … it is. Or at least, it was today.

Admit it. You were worried you'd seen this climactic scene before. You were worried because the Patriots' 17-point, fourth-quarter lead was evaporating like dry ice right before your eyes. You just knew Peyton Manningwas going to march his Colts down the field and score the game-winning touchdown, right? You just knew it.

Because make no mistake … down by just three, Indy wasn't playing for the tie. Not after the Colts had come from behind in similar fashion against the Patriots a year ago at Lucas Oil Stadium.

You certainly didn't expect rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham– who'd been replaced earlier in the half by Kyle Arrington(yes, cornerback Kyle Arrington) – to get a hand on Manning in the final seconds, which altered the quarterback's throwing motion just enough to float the football right into the waiting arms of veteran safety James Sanders.

That kind of thing doesn't happen.

Except it did.

"The offense has bailed us out plenty of times this year," Arrington noted afterward. "This was a game … 17-point lead in the fourth quarter … and once again, they came back. Like he did against the Steelers last week, James made a great play with the interception. James is the go-to guy."

Of late, yes. But Sanders – a father-figure of sorts to this young Patriots secondary – understands that the credit for New England's maturing defense must be shared.

"It goes with the preparation of the week. You play hard each and every day. Coaches do a good job of coming up with good schemes and putting us in position to make plays," Sanders told reporters gathered around his locker.

"We're studying hard during the week … We're improving each and every week. We're not where we want to be, but we're getting there. As long as we continue to work hard … that's all you can ask of our team. Hopefully, our best football's yet to come."

We clearly haven't seen a dominating performance by the Patriots defense this year – they'll freely admit as much. However, we're seeing a unit that's gaining confidence with each victory, with each big play.

"I guess we have the bend-but-don't-break mentality right now," said Arrington.

And for once, the offense took a back seat.

Driving for what would have been their fifth touchdown of the game, a Brady pass sailed through the hands of little-used wide receiver Julian Edelman at the Colts 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots settled for a field goal. Then, the offense couldn't get one last, crucial first down to run out the clock.

"It would have been a lot sweeter," QB Tom Brady later remarked about the win, "if we had done something there in the fourth quarter to help our defense."

"Down the stretch, I wish we could have gotten a few more first downs," added wide receiver Deion Branch. "We were just praying the guys [on defense] would do what they did. James made a great play. I mean, he stretched out for the ball.

"We could use him on offense," Branch concluded with a laugh.

Sanders, though, realizes he and his defensive teammates still have their work cut out for them.

"We still haven't played a 60-minute football game," he lamented. "We go out there, start fast, start well, but the second half, it seems we have lulls here and there, and we have to correct those.

"We just have to stay focused. Ninety percent of the time it goes well, but in that 10 percent when we lose our focus, we let teams back in the game. We've got to eliminate that. We're playing a lot of good teams. They're paid to make plays as well as we are. We just have to raise our level of awareness and play solid, 60-minute games."

And if that fails, just make a big play at the end. Because, after all, isn't that what this Patriots defense is all about these days?

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