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By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - Sequels are supposed to suck. But "Patriots-Colts 12: Son of Fourth-And-2"? Two thumbs enthusiastically up.
Two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever throw a forward pass were magnificent.
The bit players pushed in front of the spotlight carried their roles.
But the ending -- with the chance for redemption or the specter of relapse facing the New England Patriots -- was what made it.
A year ago, Bill Belichick tried to steal a win with his offense in Indianapolis rather than put his defense on the field. You recall fourth-and-2? That move failed famously and the Patriots season started circling the drain at that point.
This time, he didn't get to weigh that decision. He had to put his defense on the field in front of a rampaging Peyton Manning and hope someone made a play.
With a quickly evaporating 31-28 lead, it was hard to watch. Hard because the Patriots have seen this movie before and -- in the past five seasons -- it ends with them trudging off the field on the short end of the score.
The approach of Patriots left tackle Matt Light? "Say a few prayers, keep my eyes down and wish [the defense] the best."
The best came in the form of a Manning pick, his third of the day. A nudge from rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham caused Manning's fling toward the end zone to flutter. Safety James Sanders went up and came down with . . . redemption. And the Patriots' eighth win of the season.
Manning was magnificent -- 38-for-52 for 396 and four touchdowns. But the three interceptions -- the final one coming when Indianapolis was on the Patriots 24 and within game-tying field goal range -- were the Colts' undoing.
Manning took all the heat for every pick. Absolving intended receiver Pierre Garcon and crediting the Patriots coverages. And he flogged himself for the last pick.
"I'm just sick about not extending the game," he lamented. "There's just no excuse not to extend the game and give [Adam] Vinatieri a chance for a field goal . . . It was just a poor throw and it's really sickening."
Manning's sickness meant euphoria for the Patriots. This was another massive test passed.
And if success hadn't been so rampant around here for the past 10 seasons, the landmark wins the Patriots have reeled off in the past two months would be more widely celebrated. The season-changing win in Miami. The gutty post-Moss win over Baltimore. The vivisection of the Steelers last week. Now this win over the Colts.
Before this season, Bill Belichick ripped down the pictures around the Patriots offices and commanded his team to forge its own identity and memories. And they just keep doing it, throwing shovels full of dirt on the memory of 2009.
"Finish! Finish!" Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo yelled on the sidelines during the fourth quarter, according to rookie Devin McCourty.
Finishing was something the Patriots were incapable of last year. They knew they'd be called on to finish this game.
"I think our defense, we realized, 'Hey, there’s going to come a point where we’re going to have to stand up and basically be a man out there,' " said Vince Wilfork.
That point came in the fourth quarter. After the Patriots lapsed severely in blowing a 31-14 lead.
First, the offense sputtered. A bullet from Tom Brady sailed past the hands of Julian Edelman and the Patriots settled for a field goal when a touchdown would have made it 35-14. Indy answered with a touchdown. The Patriots went three-and-out after a missed blocking assignment on first down started the drive badly. Indy answered with a touchdown aided by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Tully Banta-Cain.
Another short offensive possession, this one of only four plays, and the Colts got the ball back at their own 26 with 2:24 left and three timeouts and the two-minute warning at their disposal.
"For a minute, I was thinking, 'Deja vu,' " said Sanders. "As a defense, we knew that if we didn't make a play, we were going to lose the game. He wasn't just going to give it to us, so we had to go out there and take the win."
They did. And, as a result, the myriad good things they did -- and have done -- are going to be highlighted rather than another mind-numbing collapse against Manning and the Colts. You know, the team the old Patriots used to own.
This was another step toward keeping those names of Patriots past -- the Bruschis, Harrisons, McGinests and Vrabels -- from crossing the lips of fans and the media this week. This was an opportunity seized for the 2010 Patriots to write their own story.
And their own ending.