INDIANAPOLIS -- No running up the score this week. Against the Colts, Tom Brady was content to close out another victory for the New England Patriots by kneeling three times.
In what was hyped as the biggest NFL regular-season game ever, the Patriots remained unbeaten as Brady threw two of his three touchdown passes in a four-minute span of the fourth quarter Sunday to overcome a 10-point deficit and beat Super Bowl-champion Indianapolis 24-20.
The win gave the Patriots (9-0) the first tiebreaker over Indianapolis (7-1) in the AFC playoffs.
"This is the first time we were in a ballgame late," Brady said of the Patriots, who hadn't trailed in the fourth quarter before Sunday and beat their previous eight opponents by an average of 25 points a game. "There wasn't any loss of confidence or determination."
New England, which was averaging more than 41 points a game, piled on points late in several games in which they were far ahead, including last week's 52-7 win over Washington, when they played hard well into the fourth quarter.
In this contest, anticipated since the schedule came out in April, they had to work their hardest to beat perhaps the only team in the NFL close to them.
"We had an opportunity to do a lot of things," said running back Joseph Addai, the Colts' best offensive player Sunday with 112 yards rushing and a 73-yard score on a short pass from Peyton Manning. "We left some points squandered and got field goals when we should have gotten touchdowns, but that's the nature of the game. Those guys are good. We'll see them again."
New England trailed 20-10 after Manning, who threw for 225 yards and a touchdown, scored on a 1-yard sneak with 9:42 left in the game and the crowd roaring.
But on second and 10 from the New England 42, Brady hit Randy Moss over the top for 55 yards to the Indianapolis 3 on a play in which Indy lost Bob Sanders, its best defensive back, to injury. That set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker.
Rosevelt Colvin knocked the ball loose from Manning to force a punt on the next series. Brady then hit Donte' Stallworth for 33 yards to the Indy 13 and on the next play found Kevin Faulk over the middle for 13 yards and the winning score with 3:15 left.
The defense finished it. Jarvis Green knocked the ball loose from Manning, and Colvin recovered to clinch the game on the Colts' next series.
"Some victories do mean more than others," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi, one of a handful of Patriots who played on all three of their Super Bowl winners. "This is one we're going to remember."
Coach Bill Belichick was less enthusiastic.
"This was just a football game against the Colts," he said. "That's all it was."
For three quarters, "just a football game" looked like it belonged to Indy.
It seemed to have turned with 13 seconds left in the first half, when Addai took a short pass from Manning and raced 73 yards for a touchdown, at least twice faking out New England defenders who seemed as though they expected him to run out of bounds to stop the clock.
That gave the Colts a 13-7 halftime lead and seemed to be a huge momentum shift.
It certainly energized a Colts defense that was flying all over the field at the start of the second half. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis kept Brady under pressure most of the afternoon, and when middle linebacker Gary Brackett picked off a Brady pass in the first minute of the fourth quarter that led to Manning's sneak, Indy seemed in control.
But Brady, who had 30 touchdown passes in the first half of the season, finally awoke. The long pass to Moss was New England's first gain longer than 19 yards. It came on a scramble by Brady, who extended his record with at least three touchdown passes a game to start the season to nine games.
Moss finished with nine catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. That came in the first quarter, when he easily leaped high over 5-foot-8-inch Tim Jennings to pull in a 4-yard touchdown.
Brady threw for 153 of his 255 yards in the fourth quarter as the Patriots broke a three-game losing streak against the Colts.