Patriots Secondary Steps Up At The End

James Sanders celbrates with Pats fans

James Sanders ended Peyton Manning's final Drive on Sunday just like his teammate Brandon Meriweather ended the first, with an interception. Manning, driving for the tie or the win, threw one in Sanders vicinity and the Patriots DB made the Colts pay. Patriots 31-28 win was a big boost for a beleaguered secondary.

For once, the defense actually did its job and served as the last line of defense Sunday against Indianapolis.

Throughout the season, the Patriots have relied heavily on their top-ranked offense to close out games. Think back to Week 1 when Tom Brady helped stem a late surge by the Bengals by engineering a long scoring drive that chewed up most of the clock in the fourth quarter.

Sunday marked a sudden change of events. With Peyton Manning and the Colts making a late push and threatening to either tie or win at Gillette Stadium, James Sanders intercepted a deep pass near the goal line to preserve New England's 31-28 win.

On a day when the offense failed to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, the Patriots relied on their defense to bail them out for a change.

"We put ourselves in that situation at the end," Brady said. "I'm sitting on our sideline saying, 'We did it to ourselves.' If they kicked the field goal there ... if they scored a touchdown, we've got to out there for a two-minute drive.

"If they kick the field goal, it's going to overtime. That's what I was thinking. You can't ... you know, you just say, 'Well, this is the situation. Let's go out there and try to get it done.' But our defense came up with a big play. That was a great catch by James (Sanders). It was unbelievable."

Manning has engineered some late-game comebacks against the Patriots in recent years, most notably last season when he threw the game-winning touchdown pass after the Patriots' ill-advised decision to go for a fourth-down conversion blew up in their faces.

"For a minute, I was thinking, deja vu," Sanders said. "As a defense, we knew that if we didn't make a play, we were going to lose the game. (Peyton) wasn't just going to give it to us. We had to go out there and take the win. We made a play at the end and came out on top."

Now the Patriots are in full cram mode as they prepare for Thursday's Thanksgiving showdown in Detroit, which won't be easy given the short turnaround from Sunday.

"It's definitely compressed," Brady said. "Physically we'll adjust. By the time the game kicks off, we'll be doing all the things that we want to do. We just won't have as much time to practice it. We've been playing football now since late July. If we miss one or two days of practice, it's not going to kill us."

NOTES:

--With their eighth win of the 2010 season Sunday, the Patriots are guaranteed to finish the season with a record of .500 or better for the 10th consecutive year.
At the conclusion of the 2010 season, the Patriots will be the only NFL team to finish with a record of .500 or better in each of the last 10 years (2001-2010). Each of the other 31 NFL teams had at least one losing season between 2001 and 2009.

--Tom Brady won his 25th consecutive regular-season start at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, tying Brett Favre's post-merger NFL-record 25-game home winning streak.
Favre won 25 home games in a row from 1995-98. The last time the Patriots lost a regular-season home game in which Brady started was on Nov. 12, 2006, against the Jets.

--With the victory against the Colts, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick passed Paul Brown and tied Joe Gibbs with his 171st career victory as a head coach, including playoff games.
Belichick and Gibbs are tied for 11th in the NFL. Mike Holmgren ranks 10th with 174 career wins.

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