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Colts break Patriots' hex, improve to 8-0
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts finally scaled their personal Everest. Maybe now, after routing the New England Patriots 40-21 on Monday night, they'll admit this could be a super season.
Manning shrugged off his 0-7 record at Foxborough with an intelligent dissection of the two-time defending champions. Aided by star running back Edgerrin James' 104 yards on 34 carries, and 100-yard receiving games from Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Manning led the Colts on six lengthy scoring drives and kept them perfect through eight games, the NFL's only undefeated team.
While the Patriots have struggled mightily with injuries, an undependable running game and a leaky defense, their hex over the Colts was the major theme in this meeting. But other than a masterful first-quarter march -- Tom Brady was 10-for-10 passing in the opening half -- and two TD drives when the Patriots (4-4) were trying to rally, they were the inferior team.
That mediocre record is good enough to lead the AFC East. It doesn't put them within shouting distance of the Colts, who looked mature, savvy and resourceful, all elements they have lacked against New England in recent years.
The last time Indianapolis was here, in January, it managed all of three points and never contended in the divisional playoff game. This time, the Colts' vastly upgraded defense hit harder when the score was close and forced the pace, while the offense was versatile and unflappable.
Manning was 28-of-37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He guided the Colts, who are 5-0 on the road, to scores on seven of eight possessions. Indy didn't punt until the final 2 minutes and scored its most points ever against the Patriots.
The Colts, who have downplayed their great start this season, were so skillful this night they even forced Bill Belichick into some desperate measures. After Daniel Graham turned a tight end screen into a 31-yard touchdown midway in the third quarter, New England's coach ordered an onside kick. It was recovered by the Colts' Joseph Jefferson, who advanced it to the Patriots 22.
Indianapolis managed only Mike Vanderjagt's 35-yard field goal, and Belichick remained emboldened. The Patriots went for a fourth-and-4 at the Indy 43, but Brady threw too low for David Givens.
Vanderjagt added a 20-yard field goal before Manning capped it with an on-the-run throw that descended directly into Harrison's hands in the end zone despite tight coverage by Asante Samuel.
The win made Colts coach Tony Dungy 51-0 when his team has led by at least 14 points.
Harrison had nine catches for 128 yards and Wayne had nine for 124. The Colts held the ball for 36:41.
The offensive showcase began immediately when Manning hit Harrison for 48 yards, then threw him a fade pass in the right corner of the end zone over Samuel for a 1-yard touchdown.
That drive took five plays to cover 54 yards. Showing they also could sustain a longer march, the Colts went 68 yards on 17 plays -- James handled the ball on 11 of them, including a 2-yard run from the Patriots 46 on fourth-and-1.
Another 2-yard run by James gave Indy a 14-7 lead.
In between those drives, the Patriots were just as efficient with their first possession. They also converted a fourth down when Brady hit David Givens for 5 yards on fourth-and-1 at the Colts 21. Two plays later, he connected with Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch for a 16-yard score.
Nearing the end of the half, though, both defenses made big plays. First, New England unnerved Manning and the offensive line with a blitz. Manning unwisely threw off his back foot to avoid a sack and Mike Vrabel picked it off at the Patriots 47.
New England returned the favor, however, after reaching the Indy 17. Bob Sanders knocked the ball out of Corey Dillon's hands directly to Jason David, who made up for earlier allowing Branch's TD and a 35-yard third-down completion to Givens.
Using the hurry-up offense to perfection, Manning took up nearly all the remaining 2:07 on a nine-play, 73-yard drive. He capped it by hitting Wayne with a precise pass into the left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard TD just 9 seconds before halftime, making it 21-7.
He was right back at it again after New England held the ball a mere 29 seconds after the second-half kickoff. The two-time MVP engineered an 11-play, 60-yard series highlighted by his own 18-yard scramble on third-and-5. Dominic Rhodes ran in from the 4 for a 28-7 lead.
Not even the second game for Tedy Bruschi, New England's Pro Bowl linebacker returning from a mild stroke, could help the Patriots this night. Not against a Colts team that no longer can play it low-key.