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 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.
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.”