4th-quarter miracles run dry for Patriots


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Tom Brady had an unfamiliar look on his face Sunday night, the look of a comeback quarterback who finally ran out of rallies.

Seconds after his final pass of the AFC championship game was intercepted, Brady removed his helmet and walked slowly to the sidelines – stunned. Colts 38, Patriots 34.

Usually, Brady’s smiling at the end of playoff games – he had only lost one in six seasons before Peyton Manning and Indianapolis pulled off the biggest comeback in championship game history.

But even Brady knew what he was up against when he took his first snap of his last series of the season. He was at his own 21 with only 54 seconds left. A field goal wouldn’t be enough.

“You’re backed up and time was an issue,” Brady said. “It’s not like you have 2 minutes and 30 seconds. You have a minute or less. … It’s tough.”

Twenty-four times Brady had led New England to a victory from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. He did it just a week earlier in a 24-21 win over San Diego.

And he seemed poised to do it again when he led the Patriots to two fourth-quarter field goals and a 34-31 lead after Indianapolis had tied the game at 28.

The lead might have been bigger had Reche Caldwell not dropped his second pass of the game while wide open. With first-and-15 at the Colts 18, he was left uncovered and Brady quickly threw to him along the right sideline. But Caldwell took his eyes off the ball and the Patriots settled for Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal and a 31-28 lead.

Earlier in the game, Caldwell dropped a pass in the back of the end zone.

Just one week earlier, he caught a touchdown pass and set up the winning field goal with a 49-yard reception.

Manning led the Colts on the winning, seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Joseph Addai’s 3-yard touchdown run with a minute left. They were the first points the Patriots had allowed all season in the last two minutes of a game. Suddenly, the Colts were in control after trailing 21-3 in the first half.

“We thought we had the game sealed off, but they would never go away,” defensive end Richard Seymour said.

Still, Brady had time.

“With less than a minute with two timeouts left, I felt good,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “I still felt good.”

Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin hadn’t given up either.

“I have no reason to doubt,” he said. “Regardless of what the situation is. Regardless if there’s 10 minutes to go, you expect him to score a touchdown.”

Brady’s first pass of the series was incomplete. He followed that with completions of 19 yards to Benjamin Watson and 15 yards to Heath Evans.

He went to Watson up the middle again and Marlin Jackson intercepted at the Colts 35. Immediately the defensive back fell down went down with 16 seconds left, clutching the ball as teammates piled on him.

Jackson wasn’t about to get stripped from behind the way San Diego’s Marlon McCree did last week by Patriots receiver Troy Brown – key play in New England’s come-from-behind victory over the Chargers.

This time, Brady looked on helplessly. Coach Bill Belichick clutched the collar of his gray sweatshirt and the Patriots hopes for a fourth championship in six years were dashed.

“It was over, that was my only thought,” Brady said.

He finished the game with 21-for-34 for 232 yards and a touchdown. And one crushing interception.

The loss dropped Brady to 12-2 in the playoffs, including two losses in his last four games. And he lost for the first time in four games against the Colts decided by six points or less.

He also won’t get a shot at his third Super Bowl MVP award. Manning – who has two regular-season MVP awards – will get that chance instead in two weeks against the Chicago Bears.

And Brady, who knows a little about comebacks, also knows he’s not the only one who can lead them.

“Even when we were up 21-3,” he said. “You knew at some point they were going to come back.”