INDIANAPOLIS -- For the second time in three weeks, Peyton Manning nearly led the Colts to a comeback win on the road.
For the second time in three weeks, he also failed.
Yes, Manning accepted full responsibility for the last-minute interception that cost Indianapolis a shot to force overtime at New England, or perhaps even win it at the end of regulation.
Teammates and coaches are more forgiving.
"That's part of football," linebacker Tyjuan Hagler said Monday. "We lost the game as a team, and, you know, he's won a million of them for us."
The actual number is 137, but who's counting?
Traditionally, Manning has been one of the NFL's most efficient quarterbacks when it matters most. A year ago, he had a league-best rating of 116.0 in the final 15 minutes and rallied Indianapolis to a club record seven fourth-quarter wins, including an improbable 17-point comeback against the Patriots.
On Sunday, he followed almost the exact same script.
Manning threw two touchdown passes to Blair White during the final eight minutes to get the Colts to 31-28 and had them in position for another score in the final minute.
Only this time instead of hooking up with Reggie Wayne for the winning score, the Patriots' pressure forced Manning to alter his motion, making the throw short. James Sanders' acrobatic interception preserved the Patriots' 31-28 win.
In Indianapolis and around the nation, many castigated Manning for the miscue.
"Peyton knows we're behind him 100 percent because we've seen him time and time again win games for us," cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "Look, people have their own opinions. But, at the end of the day, we're trying to win a game."
"You've got to go for the win," said kicker Adam Vinatieri, who cringed as he watched the play on the big screen TV at Gillette Stadium.
At 6-4 they're still tied for the AFC South lead, still have four of their last six games at home and still have only one team with a winning record left on the schedule. That's Jacksonville at 6-4. If they win the division title, they'll still have at least one home playoff game and with a little luck, they could still earn a bye, too.
Plus, they're about to get much stronger.
Defensive captain Gary Brackett has missed the past two games with turf toe. Running back Joseph Addai hasn't played since Oct. 17 because of a nerve injury in his left shoulder. Linebacker Clint Session hasn't played since Nov. 1 because of a dislocated right elbow, and receiver Austin Collie didn't even make it through the first quarter Sunday in his first game back after sustaining a concussion Nov. 7 at Philadelphia.
Coach Jim Caldwell hasn't said whether any of those starters will play Sunday night against San Diego though team president Bill Polian has said he believes most of the injured players, including safety Bob Sanders, could return by the Dallas game Dec. 5.
Colts fans believe the return of those players would give the offense and defense an immediate boost and help Indianapolis re-assert its preseason position as a Super Bowl contender.
"I don't think it works like that," said Addai, who is still struggling to protect the ball and himself because of the injury. "For me, I've been taking reps for about two weeks in practice with the looks squad. But you really don't know until get into the game and you have to get back into that mode."
The Colts learned that the hard way when Marvin Harrison missed most of the 2007 season with a knee injury and then returned for a playoff game against San Diego. In the first quarter, Harrison lost a rare fumble and the Colts inexplicably wound up losing to a team that finished the game without Philip Rivers or LaDainian Tomlinson.
Start winning the close ones again.
Four of Indy's six wins have come by double digits. Three of the four losses have come by a field goal or less.
And now, they just need Manning and the offense to get back to what they do best.
"I think often times what happens is that everybody wants to blame somebody," Caldwell said. "There were other factors other than just him. With a guy that's a great leader, he shoulders a lot of the responsibility, but there were other factors in there, too."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press