INDIANAPOLIS This time, the New England Patriots struggled to survive.
But survive they did, staying on course for an unbeaten season as Tom Brady threw two 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.
New England, which had been averaging more than 41 points a game and had beaten eight opponents by an average of more than 25 points, trailed 20-10 after Peyton Manning scored on a 1-yard sneak with 9 minutes and 42 seconds left in the game.
However, Brady's 55-yard completion to Randy Moss 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 for New England.
For three quarters this looked like Indy's game.
It seemed to have turned with 13 seconds left in the first half, when Joseph Addai took a short pass from Manning and raced 73 yards for a touchdown, at least twice faking out New England defenders who seemed as if they expected him to run out of bounds to stop the clock.
That gave the Colts a 13-7 halftime lead and seemed to be a huge momentum shift.
It certainly energized a Colts defense that was flying all over the field at the start of the second half. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis kept Brady under pressure most of the afternoon and when middle linebacker Gary Brackett picked off a Brady pass in the first minute of the fourth quarter that led to Manning's sneak, Indy seemed in control.
But Brady, who had 30 touchdown passes in the first half of the season, putting him on course to shatter Manning's three-year-old record of 49, finally awoke late. The long pass to Moss was New England's first gain longer than 19 yards in the game and that came on a scramble by Brady.
"They made the big plays down the stretch and we couldn't counter them," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "You knew they would try to go over the top to Moss and they finally were able to do it."
The Colts played without Marvin Harrison, their top receiver, who missed his third straight game with a knee injury. Starting left tackled Tony Ugoh also was out and the Colts lost Tony Gonzalez, Harrison's replacement, with a finger injury in the first half.
In the end, that wasn't as much a factor as Brady. He threw for 153 of his 255 yards in the fourth quarter as the Patriots broke a three-game losing streak against the Colts, who beat them here 38-34 in the AFC title game last season and went on to win the Super Bowl by beating Chicago.
This game was supposed to be more like that AFC title game than the defensive struggle it was until Brady finally made his big plays.