<
>

New England curse: Manning falls to 0-7 in Foxboro

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- 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.