INDIANAPOLIS -- No running up the score this week. Against the Colts, the New England Patriots had to struggle just to survive.
Survive they did, staying on course for an unbeaten season as Tom Brady threw two of his three touchdown passes in a four-minute span of the fourth quarter to overcome a 10-point deficit and beat Super Bowl champion Indianapolis, 24-20, Sunday.
The win, in perhaps the NFL's biggest regular-season game ever, keeps the Patriots (9-0) on course for the NFL's first unbeaten season since Miami did it in 1972 and gives them the first tiebreaker over Indianapolis (7-1) in the AFC playoffs.
"We were going against a hostile crowd, an undefeated team, we took our hats off to them. But we still played well enough to win," New England linebacker Junior Seau said.
New England, which had been scoring more than 41 points a game and had beaten eight opponents by an average of more than 25, had piled points on late in several games in which they were far ahead, including last week's 52-7 win over Washington.
In this contest, anticipated since the schedule came out last April, they had to work their hardest just to win.
They trailed 20-10 after Peyton Manning scored on a 1-yard sneak with 9 minutes and 42 seconds left in the game, and the crowd roaring.
But on a second-and-10 from their own 42, Brady hit Randy Moss over the top for 55 yards to the Colts 3 on a play in which Indy lost Bob Sanders, its best defensive back. That set up a 3-yard TD pass to Wes Welker.
Rosevelt Colvin knocked the ball loose from Manning to force a punt on the next series. Then Brady found Kevin Faulk over the middle for 13 yards for the winning score with 3:15 left.
Jarvis Green knocked the ball lose from Manning and Colvin recovered to clinch the game on the Colts' next series.
"Some victories do mean more than others," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi, one of a handful of Patriots who played on all three of their Super Bowl winners. "This is one we're going to remember."
For three quarters this looked like Indy's game.
It seemed to have turned with 13 seconds left in the first half, when Joseph Addai took a short pass from Manning and raced 73 yards for a touchdown, at least twice faking out New England defenders who seemed as if they expected him to run out of bounds to stop the clock. That gave the Colts a 13-7 halftime lead and seemed to be a huge momentum shift.
It certainly energized a Colts defense that was flying all over the field at the start of the second half. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis kept Brady under pressure most of the afternoon and when middle linebacker Gary Brackett picked off a Brady pass in the first minute of the fourth quarter that led to Manning's sneak, Indy seemed in control.
But Brady, who had 30 touchdown passes in the first half of the season, putting him on course to shatter Manning's three-year-old record of 49, finally awoke late. The long pass to Moss was New England's first gain longer than 19 yards. It came on a scramble by Brady, who extended his record with at least 3 TD passes a game to start the season to nine games.
Moss proved to be a key throughout, finishing with 9 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Coach Tony Dungy said the Colts had prepared for Moss, knowing the Patriots would go to him when they needed a big play. Yet, they were unable to contain him when it counted most.
"We didn't have the answer for Randy Moss today," Dungy said. "We had a lot of attention paid to him trying to stop him from catching the deep balls but he caught the deep one at the big time of the game. That was really the play of the game, got them a quick score."
The Colts played without Marvin Harrison, their top receiver, who missed his third straight game with a knee injury. Starting left tackled Tony Ugoh also was out and the Colts lost Tony Gonzalez, Harrison's replacement, with a finger injury in the first half.
In the end, that wasn't as much a factor as Brady. He threw for 153 of his 255 yards in the fourth quarter as the Patriots broke a three-game losing streak against the Colts, who beat them here 38-34 in the AFC title game last season and went on to win the Super Bowl by beating Chicago.
This game was supposed to be more like that AFC title game than the defensive struggle it was until Brady finally Brady finally made his big plays.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.