FOXBORO, Mass -- On a cold day in New England, Ty Law and
the Patriots put Peyton Manning on ice.
Law intercepted the previously flawless Colts quarterback three
times, Rodney Harrison added another, and the Patriots beat
Indianapolis 24-14 to advance to their second Super Bowl in three
seasons. Jarvis Green had three of New England's four sacks as the
constant pressure made the NFL's co-MVP look very average.
The Patriots will play Carolina in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in
Houston, and were quickly installed as seven-point favorites. The
Panthers won the NFC championship by beating the Philadelphia
Had New England been able to score down close, it would have
been no contest. The Patriots had only one TD, settled for five
field goals by Adam Vinatieri and lost the ball at the Indy 5 early
in the fourth quarter when Tom Brady threw his first interception
in 10 home games this season.
"To go out and pick, pick, pick a guy that everybody was
building up. It was huge for us," Harrison said, referring to
Manning, who threw eight touchdowns with no interceptions in
playoff wins over Denver and Kansas City.
The Colts never really got going Sunday until it was too late to
do anything against a defense that held Marvin Harrison, one of the
game's leading receivers, to three catches for 19 yards.
Things were so bad that when the Colts finally had to punt for
the first time in the playoffs, the snap went over the punter's
head and resulted in a safety.
"They did a good job defending us but we did things we haven't
done. We turned the ball over, we snapped a poor snap on the
punt," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We made some miscues and New
England is a good enough team to take advantage of that."
Except when he got close to the goal line, Brady was almost as
good in the cold weather as Manning had been in his first two games
under far more ideal conditions.
He finished 22-of-37 for 237 yards and a 7-yard TD pass to David
Givens on the first drive of the game and Antowain Smith added 100
yards on 22 carries.
The Patriots improved to 16-2 by winning their 14th straight
game, the best single-season streak since the perfect Miami
Dolphins did it in 1972.
"To win 14 in a row is great," Brady said. "But it means
nothing if you don't get the 15th."
With the victory, coach Bill Belichick is 5-0 in the postseason
with the Patriots, who won the NFL championship two years ago by
beating St. Louis.
New England dominated early, taking the opening kickoff right
down the field for a touchdown on the pass from Brady to Givens. It
was 15-0 at the half on two of Vinatieri's field goals plus the
safety on the botched punt.
"We knew we could move the ball on them," said New England
tight end Christian Fauria. "We thought the mismatch was our
offense against their defense."
The Colts (14-5) cut it to 15-7 on Edgerrin James' 2-yard TD run
at the start of the third quarter. But Brady led New England to two
more short field goals and the defense took it from there.
Indianapolis scored with 2:27 left on a 7-yard TD pass to Marcus
Pollard, making it 21-14.
But Fauria recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Patriots.
The Colts got the ball back on downs, but the Patriots' defense
"I just made some bad throws, some bad decisions," said
Manning, whose passer rating was nearly perfect until this week.
The four interceptions were the most he had thrown since Nov. 25,
2001, when he threw four against San Francisco.
"I thought the Patriots played extremely well and we didn't,"
He finished 23-of-47 for 237 yards, with one touchdown and four
The Patriots dominated the first half, forcing three early
turnovers. Two of them stopped potential scores by the Colts and
the third led to a field goal. Still, 15-0 wasn't much of a lead
against a team known for coming back from big deficits.
New England went 65 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown on the
opening drive of the game, with Brady finding a wide-open Givens
from 7 yards out for the score. Brady threw for 49 yards on the
drive and Givens had four catches. But the key play was a 2-yard
sneak by the New England quarterback on fourth-and-1 from his own
Manning seemed ready to counter, driving the Colts 68 yards to
the New England 5. But on third down, Harrison stepped in front of
Pollard and picked off the ball, the first interception for Manning
in three postseason games.
Vinatieri's 31-yard field goal 2:16 into the second quarter made
Law's first interception, a one-handed over-the-shoulder grab,
came on Indy's first play of the next series. New England drove 52
yards -- including another fourth-down conversion on a pass from
Brady to Troy Brown -- to set up Vinatieri's 25-yarder that made it
Then came what was supposed to be Indianapolis' first punt of
the postseason. Instead, Justin Snow snapped the ball over the head
of punter Hunter Smith, who had little choice but to kick it out of
bounds for a safety.
Indy's best chance before intermission came after David Macklin
recovered Bethel Johnson's fumble at the New England 41. But five
plays later, Rodney Harrison knocked the ball loose from Marvin
Harrison, Tyrone Poole fell on it, and the Patriots had the ball
Indy's first score came on the opening possession of the second
half. The Colts drove 52 yards on 12 plays with James going in from
But Brady hit Larry Centers for 28 yards on the first play from
scrimmage after the score and then found Brown for 17 to set up a
27-yarder by Vinatieri that made it 18-7. Brady put together
another drive that set up Vinatieri's fourth field goal with 1:32
left in the third quarter.
That was really the end for Indy.
"They have very good players and they are well coached, which
helps the good players play better," Dungy said. "They are a
really talented group."