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Colts' problems come to forefront in loss to Patriots

There were some amazing finishes on Sunday, clearly an indication that the best football lies ahead in the NFL.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has always maintained the season starts at Thanksgiving. And the signature game the weekend before Thanksgiving was the 12th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, or the War of 1812 as president of NFL Films Steve Sabol labeled the matchup in his great feature on "NFL GameDay Morning."

The tilt was typical of the last 11 battles between these two great quarterbacks -- one team took command and the other fought back with a chance to win in the final moments. Patriots fans saw Brady play at his highest level of the season, watched little Danny Woodhead, their gift from the Jets, become a new cast member in the War of 1812, and witnessed New England's defense force Manning into three interceptions, the final one securing a 31-28 victory.

In spite of the turnovers, Manning was amazing. He makes some plays that defy logic and his ability escape the rush is really underrated. His accuracy is beyond belief. Yes, he threw three picks, but had he not been on the field, this game would have been a rout. The Colts are not a good team right now and they are one of the worst at tackling. They lack skill players, and everything they do is "a grind," as Manning often says.

Manning was a one-man show. With a supporting cast that requires most to Google the names, Manning led a fourth-quarter rally that had most of the fans at Gillette Stadium feeling their hearts were going to once again be broken by Manning. The Patriots, as they did last season, controlled the game for 50 minutes, but the last 10 were all Manning. He led two quick-scoring drives and then had his team driving with a chance to win before James Sanders interecepted him with 31 seconds left.

Belichick has preached to his team all year about being tough, handling adversity, staying focused, and never giving up. He took down all the memories of the past, forcing his young players to make some of their own. When the game appeared to be heading in the favor of the Colts, the Patriots made the one play they needed in the fourth quarter and held on for the victory.

Maybe now a new photo will hang in the halls of the coaching offices.

Sunday's best

» I admit I have doubted the Buccaneers all year, but they finally had a convincing road win. Even though it was against a marginal team, it was dominating. Josh Freeman is for real and Tampa Bay found a pass rush, posting six sacks against the 49ers. Can this continue? I am not sure with the Ravens up next. One thing is for sure with the Buccaneers, after each win, the next one is always more important.

Pro Bowl voting

The Pro Bowl ballots are open, so vote for your favorite players to earn a spot in the Jan. 30, 2011, event in Honolulu's Aloha Stadium.

» The Jets keep finding ways to win, even when things look the bleakest. Are they winning games, or are the other teams losing them? The Jets are coming out on top because they believe they can win and they make plays when it matters most. Mark Sanchez has been making key plays with the game on the line the last three weeks, most notably to Santonio Holmes. The offense is now carrying the team with the defense struggling to dominate.

» Does anyone know, or even care, that the Jaguars are in first place and the Colts would not even make it to the postseason if the season ended today? Jacksonville is not a great team, but might be peaking at the right time with quarterback David Garrard getting hot. The Jaguars might not be fancy or explosive, and were the benefactors of good fortune against the Texans a week earlier, but they are in the same place they were in a year ago, in control of their own destiny the final six weeks of the season. This was a team win, holding the Browns' Peyton Hillis to 48 yards rushing and getting Maurice Jones-Drew more involved 133 yards on the ground.

» The Bills are on a roll, coming back from a 31-14 deficit at the half on the road at Cincinnati. Former Bengals QB Ryan Fitzpatrick led the charge and once again left the dysfunctional Bengals wide receivers talking about how many catches they each had and nothing about actually winning the game. These Bengals should serve as a reminder for the rest of the league on two fronts: Every year is a new year, and chemistry matters for all teams.

» The Falcons have not been very good on the road in the past, but they proved me wrong with another win and another solid outing at St. Louis. Call me a believer now, and I fully expect them to beat the Packers in Atlanta on Sunday.

Sunday funnies

» I don't think that Titans' former starting quarterback Vince Young is funny, I think he is immature and must decide if he loves football, because all of his actions don't resemble a player who wants to be great. Compare Young's work ethic or behavior to Brady, Manning, or even Matt Schaub. Young's actions remind me of what Uncle Junior once told Tony Soprano: "You know, you are so far out of the race, you actually think you are winning." I love all the people who defended Young last week, saying I was too hard on him and he did not miss treatment. Want to defend him now?

» The Vikings' season is over, and Brett Favre's career is coming to an awful end. The reality of the situation is that the Vikings are not a well-coached team and Brad Childress' reign in Minnesota is over because of that fact. Childress was saved a year ago by Favre, but there was no saving him this time around.

Rozelle's one regret

Monday marks the 47th anniversary of the assignation of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to let the games go along as planned as the country dealt with the loss of its president.

Rozelle felt that watching football would help the country take its mind off the awful tragedy, but with the magnitude of the loss, no one wanted football. For the rest of Rozelle's life, he regretted allowing the games to be played. However, that might have been the only decision Rozelle would regret as the league he was instrumental in building has grown by leaps and bounds.

Three-step drops

» The Giants had a great plan to attack Michael Vick, keeping him in the pocket and forcing him to throw the ball to his right. He was not as comfortable or as accurate as he had been. This blueprint will be used by other teams. Handling Vick has more to do with the pass rush than it does coverage. The defensive line must control Vick and force him to move in the direction it dictates. Not many teams understand this, but clearly Tom Coughlin, who had experience from seeing Randall Cunningham back in the day, knew what to do. It might not have produced the win, but it was the right way to play. ...

» Despite the great plan, Vick still had a good game, completing 24 passes to tie a career high. Vick is playing so well that even when he is not electrifying, the Eagles can still win. ...

» If the Bears can control their rush this week, they might have the speed to give the Birds and Vick some problems. This will be like a playoff game. ...

» Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh had to be smiling down from heaven as he watched the Eagles run "48 Storm Toss" to the victory, a play he designed years ago. Some things still work well. ...

Separation Sunday
The Raiders had high expectations heading into Pittsburgh, but got blown out. While all is not lost for Oakland, some teams might have seen their season come to an end Sunday, says Pat Kirwan. More ...

» I thought the Raiders would be more competitive against the Steelers, but Pittsburgh played as the desperate team and put Oakland away early. Does this mean doom and gloom for the Raiders' playoff hopes? No, it just places a sense of urgency on the next game against the Dolphins. The Raiders just need to understand, like many other teams, the race to the playoffs is all about the next six games. ...

» The Chiefs handled the Cardinals easily and the NFC West did not have a winner Sunday. Whichever team wins the division will be one-and-done come playoff time. ...

» The Colts will give up a play in the kicking game against any physical team. They struggled to return a kick Sunday without getting a penalty. ...

» The Patriots were perfect on third down in the first half (6-for-6), but were just 1-of-5 in the second half, which allowed Manning time to mount his comeback. ...

» The first pick in the draft belongs to the Carolina Panthers at this point, and I doubt they will lose this spot. A new coach in Carolina will at least get an extremely high pick to start the rebuilding. ...

» The Cowboys have won two in a row but they did not dominate the statistics Sunday, just the scoreboard. Finding ways to win when the offense is not clicking has not been Dallas' strength this season. The Cowboys found a way to grind out a win over the Lions under interim coach Jason Garrett, doubling the victory total from Wade Phillips. Two more wins down the stretch and Garrett might be the Cowboys' permanent coach.

» We now have a six-game season, making each week important and some teams desperate. That all adds up to promote the best games. How good was Week 11? I can't wait for Week 12. ...

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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