Stirring memories of their epic comeback win in the AFC Championship Game three seasons ago, the Indianapolis Colts pulled another rabbit out of their hats Sunday night against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – capping another exhilarating edition of the NFL’s marquee rivalry.
Trailing by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter – and behind by thirteen points with less than three minutes to play – the Colts rallied for two touchdowns in the game’s final moments to seal the improbable 35-34 victory, a win which puts Indy in the drivers’ seat for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne caught the game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning with just thirteen seconds left on the clock – a dagger in the heart of a New England team that had shut the Colts’ offense down for most of the night.
Making the loss even more painful, a questionable decision by Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick afforded Indianapolis its last-second opportunity.
On a fourth-and-two from their own 28-yard-line with just two minutes on the clock, Belichick inexplicably kept his punting unit on the sideline and chose to go for it.
“You have to punt the ball there,” former Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy said after the game, although in fairness Belichick would have looked like a genius had the Patriots come up with the first down.
They didn’t, though.
Running back Kevin Faulk caught a short pass from Brady just ahead of the first down marker, but he bobbled the reception – which negated any of his forward progress. Accordingly, the referees marked Faulk where he landed – about a half-yard shy of the first down marker.
Belichick’s costly gamble set the Colts up with a short field and nearly two full minutes on the clock, which was more than enough time for Manning and the Indianapolis offense to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Wayne’s final, fingertip grab was one of ten catches on the night for the three-time Pro Bowler, who finished with 126 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s hard to say if it was his best catch ever,” Manning said of Wayne’s game-winning grab. “But it was timely.”
For New England the loss made painful history, as no team coached by Belichick has ever squandered that large of a lead in the fourth quarter.
Once again, the much-hyped duel between Manning and Brady lived up to its advance billing. Brady finished 29 of 42 for 375 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception, while Manning finished 28 of 44 for 327 yards, 4 touchdowns and two interceptions.