For approximately 56 minutes of game time, the Patriots controlled their Sunday night matchup against Indianapolis. They led 34-21 with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter following Stephen Gostkowski's(notes) 36-yard field goal.
And then a strange alliance formed between Colts quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Manning directed a pair of touchdown drives, the second of which was set up by an odd decision from Belichick.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 at the New England 28 with 2:08 on the clock, Belichick decided to go for a first down…which no one does, ever. If his team would have punted and done it reasonably well, Indianapolis would have needed to cover perhaps 70-75 yards in their final possession.
Instead, after Tom Brady's(notes) pass to Kevin Faulk(notes) resulted in only a 1-yard gain, the Patriots gave the ball to Manning at the 29, just outside the red zone. Peyton completed a 15-yard pass to Reggie Wayne(notes), then handed off to Joseph Addai(notes) for 13. At that point, with the ball at the goal line, the Colts began running time off the clock. Manning eventually hit Wayne for a 1-yard score (beautiful catch) and Matt Stover's(notes) extra point was good, leaving the Pats with a one-point deficit and not nearly enough time.
Belichick was his usual robotic self after the loss:
“If we could make that play, we could win the game,” Belichick said. “That was a yard I was confident we could get.”
In fact, it was a yard he nearly did get, but Faulk didn't cleanly possess the football initially on the reception. Video here. Belichick has always coached as if kicking was the coward's path, so his decision isn't really that stunning. But it certainly wasn't traditional, nor successful. His defense could have erased the mess, but it wilted in the final minutes.
Indianapolis moves to 9-0, setting up the nightmare scenario for fantasy owners who've invested in the Colts. There's now a fair chance that Indy will wrap up playoff home field advantage by Week 16, which would likely lead to limited playing time for Manning, Wayne, Addai and Dallas Clark(notes) in championship week.
Ronnie Brown(notes) sprained his ankle in the third quarter against the Bucs and didn't return. With Miami scheduled to play on Thursday night in Week 11, his availability is in serious doubt: "But, in all likelihood, it will keep him out of Miami's next game Thursday at Carolina. 'Obviously, I can't really talk about it right now,' Brown said. 'We've still got to do some tests and see what happens. We did some X-rays. I don't think it's too bad.'" If you've got Ricky Williams(notes) on the roster, you can't sit him in the week ahead. [Miami Herald]
Phil Sheridan isn't offering much hope to those who own Brian Westbrook(notes) (concussion): "If the Eagles truly did take every precaution before allowing Westbrook to return to action 21 days after being knocked cold at Washington, then they will have to err on the side of extreme caution now. Westbrook should be placed on injured reserve, ending his season."
This from coach Andy Reid: "In these types of situations, football is secondary." Philly would seem to be a potential landing spot for one of the brand-name free agents (LJ, Edge), or perhaps one of the off-brands (Dominic, Duckett). [Philadelphia Inquirer]
We aren't likely to learn much about Michael Turner's(notes) ankle injury until Monday afternoon. There's no obvious reason to expect him to shake it off, though. His foot was in a boot after the Falcons' loss to Carolina. These were his postgame comments, when asked if the team told him the extent of the injury: "They wouldn't say [anything] right now," Turner said. "I'm just going to keep an open mind. It's an ankle sprain. We'll take it from there and just do what we can do."
In addition to the broken rib, Seattle running back Julius Jones(notes) was reportedly dealing with bleeding in one of his lungs, which of course sounds awful. Justin Forsett(notes) should be rostered as soon as possible; he ran for 123 yards in the Week 10 loss to Arizona. Forsett has also caught ten passes over the past two weeks. [Adam Schefter via Twitter]
Cedric Benson(notes) left the Bengals' win over the Steelers in the second quarter due to a hip injury, but he's optimistic about his recovery: "Benson said after the game that he hopes to be ready for next Sunday’s game at Oakland." Bernard Scott(notes) is the back-up, but of all the Week 10 running back injuries, Benson's sounds the least severe. [Cincinnati Enquirer]
There were only three Ds on this week's Rams Report Card! Not too shabby. They're this close to an honor roll bumper sticker. [St. Louis Post Dispatch]
Kyle Orton(notes) revealed little about his ankle injury following the Broncos' Week 10 loss: "It’s a tough sport and it happens," Orton said. "You have to try to play through it. I was hoping to come back out and I wasn’t able to. Hopefully I’ll be ready to go next week." Chris Simms(notes) was a mess in relief (3-for-13, INT, 7.5 passer rating); Denver faces San Diego next week in a clash of deeply flawed 6-3 teams. [Colorado Springs Gazette]
The Steelers could be without Troy Polamalu(notes) (knee) for "at least a few games," according to early speculation: "Steelers coach Mike Tomlin revealed little about Polamalu's injury, saying only that he was off at the hospital for an MRI. It's encouraging that the players acted as if the injury wasn't season-ending; ordinarily, they aren't deceitful enough to hide the truth. Then again, the players might not have known how significant Polamalu's problem is." [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Bonus coverage of the Belichick call: Pro Football Weekly points out that New England punter Chris Hanson(notes) has not exactly been putting on a clinic this year (39.6 yard average, 55-yard long). Also, at least one simulation of the end-game scenario gave a slight edge to "go for it" over "punt." Still, the more important real-life non-simulation seemed to favor the kick.
Updated at 9:25 and 10:45 am ET
Photo via AP Images