A 52-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri proved to be the game winner for the Colts as the Patriots went down in hard luck fashion, 18-15.
It was a game of extended drives but without big plays and that kept the scoring down. Both quarterbacks played well with Matt Cassel going 25 of 34 for 204 yards and Peyton Manning hitting on 21 passes out of 29 attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
In the end it came down to a huge fourth-quarter penalty on the Patriots that stalled their last chance to tie or go ahead.
Both teams went three and out on their first possessions. On its second, Indianapolis went on a monster drive -- 15 plays -- and ended it with a 12-yard pass from Manning to Anthony Gonzalez for six. Manning never looked deep, content to take what the New England defense gave him underneath and going 8 for 8 passing on the drive.
]()New England got three back on its next series early in the second quarter. The 13-play, 56-yard drive included a page out of the Miami playbook with Faulk the lone back and Cassel lined up out wide (the play went for 5 yards with Faulk running it up the middle). Like the Colts scoring drive, the Patriots played it conservative with Cassel throwing short mixed in with four BenJarvus Green-Ellis runs for only 14 yards. Stephen Gostkowski's field goal was 29 yards.
The Patriots defense stopped Indy after five plays on the next series and took over after Wes Welker's punt return at their 22. With Green-Ellis doing most of running, the offensive line began to play power football with success. In fact, Cassel wasn't forced to convert a third down until he was at the Colts 31, which he did with an 11-yard pass to Jabar Gaffney to the 20. From there, Green-Ellis got stuffed by Bob Sanders for no gain on first down. New England went back to Faulk lined up at QB on second down. This time he swung out a pass to Welker but the Colts were ready and Welker was dropped for a 2-yard loss to bring up third and 12 from the 22. Still keeping things close to the vest, Cassel ran a draw to Faulk for 5 yards bringing up a 35-yard field goal for Gostkowski to make the score 7-6 with 1:27 left in the first half.
The Colts managed to get around midfield before the half but after a 26-yard completion to Marvin Harrison to the 26, the Colts were flagged for a false start before Manning could spike the ball and time ran out.
The Patriots opened the second half on offense and continued to play ball control football. This time Cassel converted a third and 7 with his own 7-yard scramble and got Randy Moss in on the action with a 9-yard completion on third and 5 from the Colts 40. Cassel showed spunk with the pass as the play came immediately following another 5-yard run by Cassel after which he was leveled by Raheem Brock. Inside the Colts 30, Welker was good for two catches of 10 and 7 yards respectively. On second and 8 from the 17, Faulk took an inside handoff for 9 yards. Two plays later Green-Ellis plowed into the end zone from 6 yards out. The massive drive took 7:48 off the third quarter clock in 15 plays.
The Patriots attempted a 2-point conversion up by five at 12-7 but Faulk's rush off right tackle was stopped short.
The Colts roared right back. Manning went to work and his 18-yard pass to Dallas Clark on the first play took his team over midfield. Wayne was good for two more catches on the drive for 11 and 15 yards. The 15 yarder set up first and goal from the 7. Despite Joseph Addai being stuffed for a two-yard loss and Manning throwing incomplete on second down, Manning hit Gonzalez in the end zone on third down to make it 13-12 Colts.
The Colts went for two and it was Wayne again, this time hauling down a pass in the back of the end zone to make it a three-point game.
New England had the ball at the Colts 37 as the third quarter ended. Just prior, Cassel led Gaffney perfectly on a fly pattern down the left sideline that was an easy six points except for the ball going right through Gaffney's hands. Now, as the fourth quarter opened, the Patriots were facing a third and 8 from the 37.
Cassel sent Moss on a slant over the middle and hit him for 11 yards to the 26. A Faulk run for 6 and a Benjamin Watson catch for 4 combined for another first down. From the 16, however, Cassel threw incomplete to Green-Ellis and a quick pass to Welker lost a yard to make it third and 11. Cassel went to Welker again but the pass over the middle was just short of the marker. After considering going for fourth and 1, New England called its last timeout and sent out Gostkowski who tied the game at 15 with a 25-yarder.
Two long Manning passes, the first to Clark for 20 and the second to Gonzalez set up Adam Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal on the Colts next drive. With 8:05 left to play, the Colts regained the lead at 18-15.
It looked like at the very least the Patriots would tie the game after starting their next drive on the 19. Cassel stayed sharp, hitting Moss for 13 and Welker for 18. David Thomas was open down the middle for 16 yards into Colts territory. But after Green-Ellis ran for a yard down to the 31 on second and 2, Thomas was flagged for unnecessary roughness after the play. The 15-yard penalty also cost New England a down bringing up fourth and 15 from the Colts 45. With around four minutes left in the game the usual call would be to punt and count on the defense to make a stop. The problem with that was New England had no timeouts left. One or two first downs by the Colts and the game would be over.
With no other choice, Cassel dropped back on fourth down, let the ball go just before he got clobbered and Sanders for the Colts came up with the wounded duck interception.
The Colts milked the clock the rest of the way.