New England Patriots wide receiver David Givens (87) reacts after scoring a third quarter touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in their AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005, in Foxboro, Mass.
AP Photo/ Charles Krupa
FOXBORO, Mass. The quintessential quarterback keeps running into the quintessential team.
For the second year in a row, the New England Patriots made MVP Peyton Manning look ordinary and his Indianapolis teammates inept, this time beating them 20-3 Sunday behind Corey Dillon's 144 yards rushing. The Pats held the ball nearly 38 minutes, leaving Manning hardly any time to work his magic.
''I think our defense is what made this game successful,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. ''Three points to one of the best offenses in the history of football is incredible.''
Manning's quarterbacking brilliance was neutralized as usual by Bill Belichick's punishing defense and the Colts' Super Bowl aspirations ended yet again on this snowy New England field.
''It was an excellent run, a fine year,'' Manning said. ''But when you finish with a loss in the playoffs, you can't be happy about it. Eventually, it will be our time. ... All I can think about right now is losing this game.''
Manning is now 0-7 in Foxboro. Brady is 7-0 in the postseason.
For the defending champions, one more win in Pittsburgh and it's on to Jacksonville, Fla., for their third Super Bowl trip in four years.
Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and the rest of the Patriots' defense spent the day frustrating Manning, who was 27-for-42 for 238 yards. In a stunning failure for the NFL's most prolific passing attack, the Colts managed only a field goal.
''I don't have a clue,'' said Edgerrin James, held to 39 yards rushing. ''I really don't know what happened out there. I was just trying to do what I can do.''
The conditions were just right for the Patriots' strategy: run the ball, throw short passes and watch the clock tick down. New England did just that, putting together its three most time-consuming drives of the season.
Manning's timing with his receivers was off from the beginning, and the tone was set on the Colts' second series when a third-down pass went right through the hands of tight end Dallas Clark a play that likely would have produced a first down.
The cold temperatures couldn't have helped Indianapolis, which plays home games in the 72-degree warmth of the RCA Dome. Last year in Foxboro, Manning threw four interceptions in a 24-14 AFC title game loss.
Manning, who set NFL records with 49 touchdowns and a 121.1 passer rating in the regular season, delivered his worst performance this year, failing to throw a touchdown pass for the first time on his way to a 69.3 rating.
As for the Patriots, Dillon keyed a ball-control offense that kept Manning on the sideline, while Brady threw for one touchdown, ran for another and completed 18 passes in 27 attempts for 144 yards.
''I'm not even recognizing my last seven seasons right now,'' said Dillon, who spent them with Cincinnati. ''It's all about this year.''
New England (15-2) led 6-0 on Adam Vinatieri's field goals of 24 and 31 yards in the second quarter with the first one capping a 16-play, 78-yard march that lasted 9 minutes, 7 seconds.
''We played our best 30 minutes of football in the second half,'' Belichick said. ''Ran the ball, converted third downs, played good defense.''
Indianapolis (13-5) scored on Mike Vanderjagt's 23-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
''We just ran into a better team today,'' Colts coach Tony Dungy said. ''That's one thing about them. They find a way to win. We felt pretty good sitting 6-3 at the half.''
When Brady threw a 5-yard scoring pass to David Givens to cap a third-quarter drive that lasted 8:16, Manning had to make his remaining possessions count against the hard-hitting defense.
He didn't and Brady followed with a 94-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard touchdown run.
Facing a 20-3 deficit with 7:10 left, there was little that even Manning could do.
The Patriots proved once again they could win without their best defenders. Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour was sidelined with a knee injury, and starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole are on injured reserve. But the Patriots' defense still stifled the fifth-highest scoring team in NFL history.
''It was just the best game plan that we've had since I've been here,'' Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said.
Belichick had nothing but praise for his makeshift secondary.
''They played very well. There's nothing magical. They rushed them. They jammed them. They tackled them. They covered them,'' he said.
The season ended for the Colts right where it started. They lost the opener in Foxboro 27-24 when Vanderjagt missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the final minute. The Colts have now lost six straight to New England and nine straight in Foxboro.
And for the Patriots, the road to the Super Bowl once again runs through Pittsburgh, where they won the AFC title in 2002.
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