By Danny Picard
FOXBORO -- If the New England Patriots' defense wanted to make astatement to its doubters, it was going to have to come on Sunday night, duringthe Indianapolis Colts' final drive of the game.
Peyton Manning had already taken his team into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter, cutting New Englands 31-14 lead to 31-28. After the Colts' 'D' had forced the Patriots to punt, Manning had 2 minutes and 25 seconds to drive 74yards for the win at Gillette Stadium.
Manning took his offense down to the New England 24-yardline after connecting with Reggie Wayne for a 15-yard pass on 3rd-and-6. Withless than a minute remaining, the Colts had a first down, and were perfectlyset up in field-goal range.
But on that first down play, Manning set up his no-huddleoffense while in the shotgun formation, looked his tight end off, and attempteda pass down the right sideline for Pierre Garcon.
There would be no game-tying field goal from former PatriotAdam Vinatieri, and there would be no game-winning touchdown for Manning atGillette.
Credit that to safety James Sanders, who leaped out ofnowhere and picked off Manning's pass at New England's 6-yard line, giving thePatriots the ball with 31 seconds left and sealing the deal on a three-pointwin.
"As a defense, we knew if we didnt make a play, we weregoing to lose the game," said Sanders. "Manning wasn't going to just give itto us. So we had to go out there and take the win."
The Pats' defense held Manning and the Colts' offense tojust 14 points and picked him off twice through the first three quarters, whiledisguising their coverages.
But Manning came out in the fourth and threw two touchdownsin his first two possessions of the quarter.
Something had to be done on histhird possession. And Sanders was the one to step up and make it happen.
Sanders credited linebacker Gary Guyton for jamming Coltstight end Jacob Tamme at the line of scrimmage, prior to his interception.Sanders and Guyton were double-covering Tamme on the play, but because ofGuytons tight coverage, it allowed Sanders to read Manning a little longer.
Sanders saw Manning notice the double coverage, which causedthe Colts' quarterback to become wide-eyed at the single coverage on Garcondown the right sideline. He went for the big play with the game onthe line.
As the throw was made, Patriots linebacker JermaineCunningham was rushing in from the left side, and just got a piece of Manningsthrowing arm, disrupting his attempt.
From there Sanders dropped back, leaped up, and made theinterception while falling backwards to the ground. It was the only thing thePatriots could have done to guarantee victory.
"It feels good when the defense comes through and kind ofwins the game for you," said Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. "They were afield goal away from tying it up, a touchdown away from winning the game, butwe were forced to step up big and win it with a turnover. That was huge for us.I'm very proud of our guys out there.
"I think going into this week, the offense realized they hadto score points," said Wilfork. "And I think our defense, we realized, 'Hey,theres going to come a point where we're going to have to stand up andbasically be a man out there.' And we did. With a minute left in the ball game,whatever it was, James Sanders came up with that interception, that turnover.That felt good."
Cornerback Darius Butler got to see some second-half action after Patriots coach Bill Belichick made some halftime adjustments, moving cornerback Kyle Arrington mostly as an outside pass-rusher.
Belichick said after the win that the move was part of the game plan heading in.
"Yeah, yeah, we planned it," said Belichick. "We don't draw them up on the dirt now."
Arrington was beaten several times in the first half by Reggie Wayne, including on an 11-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline with four seconds remaining in the second quarter.
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"The coaches are very confident in my ability to rush thequarterback, or get to the quarterback," said Arrington.
But it was wasn't as easy as it looked.
"Tackles get paid to block, so it was very different," he added. "I had a few opportunities. I got close to Peyton a coupletimes, but in the trenches, its very different."
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard