Another Heavyweight Battle

Before Sunday's battle of the unbeatens, Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy compared the Patriots and Colts to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, a reference to the three epic heavyweight battles the two legendary boxers took part in during the 1970s. If that was the case, the Patriots were well behind in points as the teams entered the final rounds but came up with the knockout nonetheless.

For the better part of three quarters, Indy took it to the high-powered Patriots attack. Peyton Manning (16-for-27, 225 yards, one TD, one INT), using a steady diet of Joseph Addai both on the ground and through the air, snuck in from the 1 to put the Colts on top, 20-10, with less than 10 minutes to go. At that point, the Colts defense was stuffing Tom Brady's vaunted passing attack and making the Patriots look thoroughly ordinary.

But things changed dramatically during those final 10 minutes. The first roundhouse right was delivered by the incomparable Randy Moss (nine catches, 145 yards, one TD), who somehow managed to get behind Indy safety Antoine Bethea before hauling in a 55-yard pass down the left sideline. Three plays later, Brady hit Wes Welker for a three-yard touchdown that brought New England within striking distance at 20-17.

When the Patriots got the ball back, Brady wasted little time in taking the lead. On the second play of the drive, he again looked deep and found Stallworth for 33 yards down the same left sideline. Stallworth got one foot in before Bethea drilled him out of bounds, but the officials ruled he would have gotten his second foot down had he not been hit. With the ball on the 13, Brady hit Kevin Faulk over the middle and the running back shifted his way toward the end zone before diving in for the decisive points.

"You have an idea when you check out the defense that it might be an opportunity," Faulk said of his winning touchdown. "Tom called the play, I was open, he threw the ball and I just had to get into the end zone."

The Patriots defense still had to hold off Manning for the final 3:10, and the way Indy's offense moved the ball effectively throughout the day it seemed like a tall order. Manning hit Reggie Wayne for 24 yards to the Indy 48 and it seemed the home team had some momentum.

But the pass rush came through for the second straight possession as Jarvis Green sacked Manning, knocking the ball into Rosevelt Colvin's arms to thwart the final drive. Now all the Patriots had to do was pick up the first down that eluded them the last time they ventured into the dome against the Colts. This time, they got the job done with a 10-yard hookup from Brady to Welker on third-and-six. All that was left at that point was three Brady kneel downs and the Patriots had a most impressive victory.

"This wasn't a game where the score was run up," Colvin said. "It was a game we had to continue to fight. That's where our ability to score points definitely paid off. I thought it was going to be a strip sack when Jarvis had that great rush. It was a big opportunity to make a play and he made it. In the last nine minutes, we had a lot of guys make big plays."

It was another epic battle in sports' most intense rivalry. And for anyone who saw these two teams play on Sunday, there's little doubt they will meet again in late January, with a lot more on the line than just bragging rights.

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