Adam Vinatieri showed New England he's still the NFL's best clutch kicker.
The Patriots' career scoring leader, who booted winning field goals in two of their Super Bowl victories and then let go as a free agent, kicked a 52-yarder with 8:05 left yesterday to give the Indianapolis Colts an 18-15 victory.
Vinatieri hadn't made a kick that long since November 2002, when he hit a 57-yarder against Chicago, but had no trouble making this one and possibly saving the season for Indianapolis (4-4).
New England tight end David Thomas had every bit as much to do with the outcome as Vinatieri.
With the Patriots (5-3) facing third-and-2 at the Colts 32 with 4:45 left, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 1 yard, and Thomas drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play. That put the Pats in third-and-16 from the Colts 45, and all they could muster was 1 yard before Bob Sanders picked off Matt Cassel's errant fourth-down throw to seal it.
The game had none of the trimmings from recent years. There was no championship at stake, no hype about unbeaten teams or defending Super Bowl titles. Heck, Tom Brady wasn't even playing.
But players and fans responded as if this was still the league's best matchup on a day full of headline attractions.
Indy used Marvin Harrison as a punt returner. Sanders played most of the game after returning from knee and ankle injuries. Bill Belichick even called a halfback pass.
And the chess match had Belichick and Tony Dungy dredging up previous game plans.
Peyton Manning exposed the Patriots' soft middle early, and Indy's second possession produced the best drive of the season: a 15-play, 91-yard, 9-minute, 2-second march that ended with Manning hooking up with a wide-open Anthony Gonzalez down the sideline for a 12-yard TD pass and a 7-0 lead.
New England countered with its old dink-and-dunk attack. It took the Patriots nearly 27 minutes to throw a pass to a wide receiver, opting instead for short passes to the backs and tight ends.
It worked well enough to keep the Patriots close. They set up Stephen Gostkowski for field goals of 29 and 35 yards to close to 7-6 late in the first half.
New England stuck to it in the second half, too. The Patriots opened the third quarter with a 15-play drive, rife with short gainers, that finally resulted in Green-Ellis' 6-yard TD run to give the Pats their first lead at 12-7. Kevin Faulk's conversion run was stopped just short of the goal line, although replays showed he may have made it.
Manning answered like he has done so often in the past. He took advantage of a short field with long passes and then connected again with Gonzalez in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard TD pass. Reggie Wayne hung on to the conversion pass in the back of the end zone after a big hit to give Indy a 15-12 lead.
New England tied it on another 25-yard field goal by Gostkowski, but Manning drove the Colts 48 yards to set up Vinatieri for the 52-yarder to win it.
This program aired on November 3, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.