The Indianapolis Colts scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter - the last coming with 13 seconds left - to beat New England 35-34 on Sunday night. But the Colts (9-0) could thank a controversial decision by the Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for helping them to keep their perfect record intact.
With 2:08 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were ahead by six points and facing a fourth and two at their 28-yard line. Instead of punting the ball back to the Colts and making Peyton Manning drive it from his own territory, the Patriots' offence stayed on the field. Tom Brady, in an otherwise empty backfield, took the shotgun snap and fired a pass to Kevin Faulk on his right. The Colts' Melvin Bullitt instantly made the tackle and drove Faulk to the ground a half-yard short of the marker.
The Patriots (6-3) could not challenge the spot on the play - although they surely would have wanted to - because they had no timeouts left. It was a one-yard gain, and a turnover on downs. Manning took over, got the Colts to the Patriots' one-yard line with a pass and two handoffs, then triggered delirium among the home fans with a quick pass to Reggie Wayne for a touchdown that tied the scores. Matt Stover put the home team ahead with an extra point.
"Disbelief? No. Disappointment? Yeah. Especially when you know it was the game-changing play," said Faulk. "We thought we could win the game on that play. That was a yard I was confident we could get," said Belichick. "Not much surprises me with New England," Manning said. "When you see them go for it on fourth down, I can't lie to you, you certainly get a little nervous because you might get a shorter field - but the game might be over."
The Patriots had time to return the kick-off and make only one play, a nine-yard pass from Brady to Wes Welker that ran out the clock. Elsewhere, the Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) produced an outstanding defensive display to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 18-12 and take control of the AFC North. Shayne Graham kicked four field goals in the second-half for the visitors, whose only touchdown came from a 96-yard kick-off return by Bernard Scott.
The win means Cincinnati sweep their season series with the Steelers (6-3) for the first time since 1998. "They're clearly the best team in the division," said the Steelers' safety, Ryan Clark. "I'd give my left arm to play them again." The New Orleans Saints (9-0) hung on to their 100 per cent record but were less than impressive in their 28-23 win over the St Louis Rams (1-8). Reggie Bush scored two TDs as the Saints equalled their club record with nine consecutive wins.
The Miami Dolphins' quarterback Chad Henne orchestrated a 77-yard scoring drive in the final 70 seconds to set up Dan Carpenter's match-winning 25-yard field goal as Miami (4-5) beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8) 25-23. The Carolina Panthers' quarterback Jake Delhomme threw two touchdowns to Steve Smith to help the Panthers (4-5) beat the Atlanta Falcons (5-4) 28-19. Brett Favre passed for a season-high 344 yards for the Minnesota Vikings (8-1), who handed the Detroit Lions their 31st defeat in 33 games. The Vikings won 27-10.
The Washington Redskins (3-6) scored more than 17 points for the first time this season as they ended a four-game losing streak with a 27-17 win over the Denver Broncos (6-3). It was the Broncos' third loss in a row and they had to play the second half with Chris Simms at quarterback after Kyle Orton left with an ankle injury. The Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Titans (3-6) to a 41-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills (3-6), while Josh Scobee kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) a 24-22 victory over the New York Jets (4-5).
LaDainian Tomlinson scored two TDs as the San Diego Chargers (6-3) moved joint top of the AFC West with a 31-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles (5-4). Tomlinson gained a season-high 96 yards on 24 carries to pass Thurman Thomas and Franco Harris and move into 12th place on the all-time rushing list with 12,145 yards. Donovan McNabb threw for a season-high 450 yards, completing 35 of 55 passes and two late touchdowns for Philadelphia (5-4).
Charles Woodson forced two fumbles and caught an interception as the Green Bay Packers' smothering defence allowed the Packers (5-4) to beat the Dallas Cowboys (6-3) 17-7. "It seemed like guys had a lot of passion out there for the game," Woodson said. "Where it came from, I don't know, but we were happy to have it and got a big win for this team. We've got to have that passion every week, and it's got to show up on the field."
Jamaal Charles scored on a 44-yard run for Kansas City's first rushing touchdown of the season as the Chiefs (2-7) beat the Oakland Raiders (2-7) 16-10. The rookie Beanie Wells had second-half touchdown runs of 10 and 13 yards to help the Arizona Cardinals (6-3) come from behind and beat the Seattle Seahawks (3-6) 31-20. * With agencies