Colts 40, Patriots 21
-- Quarterback Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts teammates exorcised their Foxborough demons. It was only a regular season game in early November, but it had the feel of a passing of the torch of NFL dominance as the Colts churned out a stunningly efficient and one-sided 40-21 triumph over the New England Patriots Monday night.
The Colts remained the league's only unbeaten team, improving their record to 8-0. They took another step toward securing home field throughout the AFC playoffs and, most important, they finally proved their mettle against the club they hadn't been able to beat.
"We don't cry," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "We got our butts whipped pretty good."
These aren't the same flawless Patriots who have served as the Colts' annual January roadblock to a Super Bowl in recent seasons. The champions' record dropped to 4-4. They have alternated wins and losses every week this season, and they again failed to build any positive momentum after their emotional triumph over the Buffalo Bills eight days ago in linebacker Tedy Bruschi's first game since suffering a mild stroke in February.
They aren't engulfed in controversy like last season's other Super Bowl participant, the Philadelphia Eagles. But they have the same .500 record.
The diminished stature of the Patriots seemed to matter little to Manning and the Colts, however. Manning secured his first career triumph in eight games in Foxborough. The Colts were coming off a bye week and played like a rested, ready team, and now the scrutiny on their pursuit of an undefeated season is certain to intensify. They have become far more than the Manning show, but he remains the ringleader.
He threw an interception but did little else wrong Monday, completing 28 of 37 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Manning threw first-half touchdown passes to Harrison and fellow wideout Reggie Wayne as the Colts sprinted to a 21-7 lead at the break and never looked back.
"We were really set on coming out and getting a lead," Manning said. "We hadn't had a lead on these guys in quite some time . . . . It feels much better to win, but we have bigger goals we want to accomplish."
Tailback Edgerrin James ran for 104 yards and a touchdown. His backup, Dominic Rhodes, provided a third-quarter touchdown scamper that upped the Colts' advantage to 28-7. Harrison finished with 128 receiving yards, and Wayne had 124.
"It's just one game at the end of the first half of our season," Colts Coach Tony Dungy said. "We have to make sure we don't look at it as more than that. I think we have some level-headed guys who will do that."
Quarterback Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns for the Patriots in a 22-for-33, 265-yard passing performance. But, unlike Manning, he had far too little help.
The Patriots eliminated the Colts from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. But this time, Manning was surrounded by a well-rounded team with a solid defense, and the Patriots aren't playing anything like the club that won three of the past four Super Bowls.
The Colts wasted no time establishing that they could move the ball on offense. Many of the fans barely had settled into their seats after enduring the usual traffic bottleneck outside Gillette Stadium when Manning lofted a deep pass toward Harrison in the middle of the field on the game's second play.
Harrison made the catch for a 48-yard gain, giving the Colts a first down at the Patriots 9-yard line. After two running plays and a Patriots' timeout, the Colts faced a third down at the 1. Manning floated a pass toward Harrison in the back right corner of the end zone, and he made a leaping grab over cornerback Asante Samuel for the duo's 88th career touchdown.
Brady led the Patriots right back with a 16-yard scoring throw to wideout Deion Branch. But the Colts immediately reasserted themselves with the sort of workmanlike drive -- taking 17 plays and draining more than nine minutes off the clock -- that their pass-first offense rarely produced in past seasons. James did the heavy lifting. He picked up a first down with a two-yard run on fourth and one from the Patriots 46, and later bulldozed into the end zone on a second-down play from the 2.
The Indianapolis defense, ranked fourth in the league coming in, toughened from there. The Colts forced a Patriots' punt on their second possession. Manning, briefly resembling the jittery quarterback of previous visits here, danced in the pocket and threw an interception to Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel. But the Colts defense recovered a fumble by tailback Corey Dillon with the Patriots driving toward a potential tying touchdown, and Manning took the Colts down the field in the final two minutes of the first half. On third and goal from the Patriots 10, Wayne outmaneuvered cornerback Duane Starks and made a twisting catch in the end zone for a two-touchdown advantage heading into the intermission.
The Colts were back at it in the third quarter with another sustained drive that resulted in Rhodes's four-yard touchdown burst. Brady got the Patriots back to within 14 with a 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham, but a botched onside kick attempt handed the Colts a field goal. Kicker Mike Vanderjagt's 35-yarder made it a 31-14 game, and he connected again from 20 yards just over a minute into the fourth quarter.
"They completely outplayed us tonight," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said.