Plenty on Manning's shoulders
Coach Bill Belichick had seen Peyton Manning in this position too many times
Manning brought the Colts back to within three points in the final minute
He took full responsibility for what turned out being the game-ending throw
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This time, he could not beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots. This time, he could not finish the furious comeback. This time, he threw a killer interception in the closing seconds when his team was already in position to tie the game with a field goal.
Peyton Manning's going to be exhausted by the time he gets to the end of this season, that's for sure. It's can't be easy carrying the Indianapolis Colts all by himself. He has no running game. He doesn't have a lot of healthy, experienced receivers. He's got guys dropping passes and running the wrong way. And still he almost beat the Patriots in New England on Sunday.
Tom Brady finished the game with a tidy 19 completions in 25 attempts for two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Manning was 38-of-52 for 396 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. The Pats outgained the Colts on the ground 168-71.
Belichick fears Manning more than any other quarterback. New England led Indy 21-3 in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, but lost 38-34. Last year, the Patriots led the Colts by 17 in the fourth, but Manning brought the Ponies back. Manning forced Belichick to go for a first down on a fourth-and-2 on his own 28. The Pats didn't convert and Manning came back and won the game. It was his fifth victory in a span of six games against the vaunted Patriots.
On Sunday, the Patriots led the Colts 31-14 with 10:27 left. Then Manning went on a 12-for-13 run, leading the Colts to a pair of touchdowns in what seemed like a matter of seconds. Indy had two drives of 73 yards, neither one taking more than two and a half minutes. With 4:46 left, it was 31-28.
The Colts got the ball back one last time and streaked down the field again. A 15-yard pass to Reggie Wayne put Indianapolis on the Patriots' 24-yard line with 37 seconds left.
The Colts could have kicked a game-tying field goal (Adam Vinatieri knows his way around Gillette Stadium) right then and there, but Manning wanted to win the game. He dropped back and aimed downfield toward Pierre Garcon, who was somewhere near the right corner of the end zone. Unfortunately for Manning, he was pressured by rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and didn't get enough on the ball. Safety James Sanders leaped and intercepted the pass.
"He [Sanders] read the quarterback and fell off the route,'' said Belichick.
There were plenty of excuses available to Manning for his three-pick day. He had no running game and there seemed to be significant confusion with some of his receivers. But the veteran quarterback did not point fingers.
Asked about the final play, he said, "Bad throw.''
Asked if he was bumped, Manning answered, "I don't think so. I certainly didn't get everything on the throw that I wanted. We had the matchup that I wanted and I took a shot at the end zone and I just did not -- I can't tell you the reason. I just did not get everything I wanted on that throw.''
Later, he added, "If you're asking if I'm stewing about it right now, the answer would be yes.''
As for the curious route running that marked the day, Manning said, "New England was moving their coverages, so it wasn't anything on Pierre. Pierre made a couple of big, huge plays during the second half.''
This has got to be tough on Manning. Just one year ago, he was quarterback of an undefeated team that wound up in the Super Bowl. Manning's pick six was the deciding play late in that Super Bowl.
Now the Colts are 6-4 and Manning's going to have to supersede his four MVP seasons if he's going to take this team anywhere.
"We have not been good enough on the road this year,'' he said. "All four of our losses are on the road. That's disappointing. We've been a good road team in the past. Usually, to be the kind of team that you really want to be, you have to be able to win on the road.''
As for the injuries, Manning said, "I don't like talking about it. It just sounds like you're making excuses. It is what it is, I guess. I would agree that it is challenging, but it is doable. It's not going to get any easier with our schedule. We've got some tough AFC opponents down the road here in November and December and we're going to have our work cut out for us.''
It's a lot of weight for one man to carry.
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columns here.