A victory at Indianapolis would have put New England firmly in control of its own destiny at the midpoint of the season. Instead, the five-time defending AFC East champions are smack dab in the middle of a dogfight.
Knowing that Buffalo had lost to Miami earlier in the day, New England went into its Sunday night game at Indianapolis with the chance to take a full game lead over the rest of the division. However, a 52-yard field goal by ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri with 8:09 remaining in the fourth quarter was the difference in an 18-15 loss that created a logjam in the AFC East.
All four teams are within one game of each other at the midpoint of the season. New England, Buffalo and the New York Jets all sit at 5-3, while the surprising Miami Dolphins sit just a game back at 4-4.
"We've got three division games coming up, a big game coming up against Buffalo," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "We need to start turning our sights to that one, and put (the Indianapolis loss) behind us."
One or two plays could have changed the face of the division race Sunday night. The biggest was a dropped pass by a wide-open Jabari Gaffney just before the end of the third quarter. Gaffney was streaking behind the Colts' secondary down the left sideline and Matt Cassel hit him in stride, but the ball went through Gaffney's hand for an incompletion. The drive eventually stalled inside the 10-yard line, and New England settled for a field goal that tied the score at 15-15.
Asked what he could say to Gaffney to pick his fellow receiver up, Randy Moss said Gaffney needed to put the play behind him.
"You say what a real true homeboy would say, 'Pick your head up, go home, kiss your babies and I'll see you on Wednesday,'" said Moss, who had six catches for 65 yards. "It's as simple as that. You really can't let one play get you down. It's a long season and there is a lot of football left."
The congested nature of the division essentially turns the season into an eight-game sprint for the postseason. The next three weeks will go a long way toward determining New England's fate.
New England faces each of the division opponents over the next three games, starting with Buffalo at home on Sunday. Just four days later, the Patriots host the Jets in a Thursday night tilt on Nov. 13 before they travel to Miami on Nov. 23.
A Number To Remember: 8 -- Consecutive games to start the season in which wide receiver Wes Welker has caught at least six passes. He matched the NFL record to start a season, set by Jacksonville's Jimmy Smith in 2001. Welker caught his sixth pass of the game early in the fourth quarter. Welker finished with seven catches, giving him 56 for the season. A year ago, he had 56 catches through eight games en route to a team-record 112 receptions.