Tony Eason, starting for the first time in more than two months, completed 20 of 28 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns today to guide the New England Patriots into a first-place tie in the AFC East with a 38-31 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

New England (9-4) tied the New York Jets atop the division. The Miami Dolphins (8-4) can forge a three-way tie by beating Chicago Monday night. The Colts (3-10) lost their fifth straight game despite three rushing touchdowns by Randy McMillan.

Eason, who separated his shoulder Sept. 22 against Buffalo and replaced injured Steve Grogan in the second half last week, threw scoring passes of six yards to Irving Fryar and 14 yards to Stanley Morgan in the first half. In the second half, Eason completed 10 of 11 passes, including a 25-yard score to Morgan to give New England a 31-17 lead.

NFL punting leader Rohn Stark of Indianapolis became the league's all-time career punt average leader. He reached the required 300 punts with his fourth kick today; his 45.16-yard career average surpassed Sammy Baugh's mark of 45.10.

Penalties plagued the Patriots, sustaining two Colts drives and negating Eason's scoring pass on a third-quarter drive later stopped by an interception.

McMillan pulled the Colts to 31-24 on a six-yard run with 9:06 left. But New England answered with a 75-yard drive capped by Mosi Tatupu's one-yard run.

New England defensive end Kenneth Sims broke his left leg and will be sidelined at least four weeks. He was injured early in the second quarter after tackling McMillan.