Mike Vanderjagt lined up for a 47-yard field goal to tie the game with seconds left to play. This is the Mike Vanderjagt who has been good on 42 straight field goals mind you. All signs pointed to overtime.
Maybe it was the wind, which blew steady on this night. Maybe it was the good karma floating around for the Patriots on a night when they unveiled their second world championship banner.
Whatever the case, the kick was wide right and the Patriots lived through 202 Indy rushing yards and another 256 through the air to take a 27-24 season opening win.
While the Patriots offense looked in fine shape ( Tom Brady, 26 of 38, 335 yards, 3 TDs; Dillon 86 yards on 15 carries), its defense had problems with the Colts. Certainly, it won't be the only defense the Colts pose a problem for this season but the running of Edgerrin James might give some early thought to spending extra practice time with the run defense.
In the end it was a game of big plays, key penalties and turnovers. In other words a typical Patriots-Colts match-up.
New England came out gunning. They opened offensively no-huddle with an empty backfield and Brady picked up 2004 where 2003 left off, hitting David Givens over the middle for 19 on the first play of the game. He then found Deion Branch and Benjamin Watson for 14 each but a delay penalty on second and 11 once at the Colts10-yard line stalled the drive and New England settled for an Adam Vinatieri 32-yard field goal to open the scoring.
It looked like the New England defense had the Colts three and out on their first try but a third down penalty on Rodney Harrison gave them a second life and Peyton Manning made sure he took advantage by hitting Reggie Wayne for a 42-yard pick-up on the very next play.
That brought the line of scrimmage to the Patriots 16 where James ran for 8 yards.
Then, it was like AFC Championship déjà vu. At the Patriots 6-yard line, Manning looked to the end zone over the middle but found Tedy Bruschi who picked off the pass and returned it to the 6-yard line. Just like the Colts first drive in that game, Manning threatened but turned the ball over in the end zone.
The first quarter ended with the Colts again pushing the ball into the Patriots red zone. They got there when Manning hit Marvin Harrison for 9 yards on third and five and then on first down James was wide open for a 20-yard gain. Once down to the New England 15, the most Manning could do was a 1-yard pass to Harrison. Vanderjagt came on and was good on a 32-yard field goal to tie the game at 3.
It was clear after the Colts third possession, the Patriots could not stop the Colts running game. On eight straight plays, Indy ran the ball right up the Patriots gut for 66 yards. James and Dominic Rhodes did the work while the Colts offensive line blew the Patriots away. At the 3-yard line, James rammed it in for the score and a 10-3 lead.
Between the two Colts runners, Indy had already amassed 99 yards on the ground with James accounting for 73 of them.
New England bounced back with some running of its own courtesy of Corey Dillon who banged out a 38-yard gain on the first play of the next drive. Despite a Dwight Freeney sack of Brady that knocked the offense back to the Colts 31, Brady coolly hit David Patten for 20 on the next play. Two plays later, he found Branch in the end zone from 16 yards out.
With just under three minutes left in the half, it was time to see if the Patriots defense could keep Indy on its side of the field. One play answered that question: No. On first down and New England still fazed about its run defense, Manning hit tight end Dallas Clark for a 64-yard catch and run down to the Patriots 18. It took another six plays but Manning eventually was good for six points, with a 3-yard pass to Harrison.
In 42 seconds, Brady managed to get his team down to the Colts 25 with passes to Graham on three straight plays. With two seconds left, the Patriots stopped the clock and Vinatieri was good on a 43-yard field goal.
The first half ended with the Colts up, 17-13 with 102 yards rushing.
After holding the Colts to three and out for the first time in the game to begin the second half, New England took over offensively and immediately scored. Brady hit Patten from 25 yards out on a nice little fly pattern where Brady just lofted the ball over the coverage in pursuit and Patten grabbed it on the run. Branch contributed on the scoring drive with catches of 12 and 17 yards and Dillon had a nice 10-yard run.
The Colts offense got back on track to the tune of 10 plays down to the Patriots 22 and converting three third downs along the way. But on the eleventh play, Ty Warren forced James to fumble running up the middle. Indy challenged the ruling but the call on the field stood and New England took over on its 18.
Now it was New England taking advantage of the Colts secondary. On third and nine, Brady found Patten wide open for 29 yards. On the next play, Brady turned and rolled right and then looked across the field to Givens, again, all alone, for 25 yards. Dillon pounded the ball 7 yards closer and on the next play it was Brady to Graham for an 8-yard touchdown and a 27-17 Patriots lead.
The third quarter ended with three positive plays for the Colts offense, James running for 7- and 8-yard gains and a Harrison catch for 9 to midfield. The drive continued well into the fourth quarter as Manning engineered an 11-play scoring drive culminating in a 7-yard Stokley touchdown catch.
This season's illegal contact point of emphasis came into play on the drive as both Eugene Wilson and Mike Vrabel were victims of calls that arguably would not have been made last season.
Down by three, the Colts were served an excellent opportunity when Brady overthrew his receiver on third and 11 from the Colts 46 and Nick Harper came up with the interception. The return was to the Colts 30.
Despite James continuing to pile up yards (133 to that point) New England forced Indy to punt but then made a critical special teams error.
Deion Branch let the ensuing punt touch him without cleanly fielding it and the Colts recovered the loose ball. Instead of the Patriots having the ball and the lead with around five minutes to play, it was Indy first and 10 at the Patriots 33.
It looked like the Colts would make the Patriots pay big-time. Tyrone Poole was flagged for pass interference in the end zone placing the ball on the 1. Incredibly, James coughed up the ball for the second time in the game on the next play and Vince Wilfork recovered. Wilson was credited with the forced fumble.
Working from his own 1-yard line on third and nine, Brady hit Givens for 22 yards on third down, as big a play as there was in the game.
But the breathing room that play afforded was short-lived. With 1:53 left to play, New England had to punt and Indy took over on its own 36.
A play later, the Colts were on the Patriots 18 with a 45-yard completion to Stokely. Things looked bleak until Willie McGinest came into the Colts backfield untouched and leveled Manning for a 12-yard loss. That brought on Vanerjagt, the Colts consistent kicker with the 42-made field goal streak going for him. It was a 47-yard make-able kick for the tie.
Of course, he missed it.
Brady spread the ball out well, hitting seven different receivers. Leading the way was Branch with 7 catches and 86 yards. Patten had 4 for 86. Givens had another 4 for 80 and Graham had 7 for 57 yards.
For the Colts, Brandon Stokley had 4 catches and 77 yards while Marvin Harrison had 7 for 44.