- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

The coach of the decade made the blunder of the season in the game of the year.

A questionable decision by coach Bill Belichick helped the Patriots blow a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and lose 35-34 to the archrival Colts.

Yes, the Colts improved to 9-0 under rookie coach Jim Caldwell. Yes, the transition from ex-coach Tony Dungy to his lieutenant has gone smoother than Nat King Cole. And, yes, the Colts have won 18 straight regular-season games, tying the 2007-08 Patriots at No. 2 on the all-time list.

But the story of Week 10 lies not in the Colts’ success but in the unforgettably boneheaded decision by Belichick that led to the Patriots’ failure.

Tom Brady and Randy Moss carved up an injury-wracked Colts secondary, carrying the Patriots to a 31-14 lead.

Peyton Manning took the Colts on a five-play touchdown drive, the Patriots kicked a field goal, then the Colts scored another touchdown on a six-play drive.

That left the Patriots with a 34-28 lead and the ball with 2:23 left.

Fifteen seconds and three timeouts later, the Patriots faced fourth-and-1 at their own 28.

Instead of doing the obvious - punting to force Manning to mount a long drive for a game-winning touchdown - Belichick went for it.

But Melvin Bullitt, playing only because star safety Bob Sanders is out for the year, hogtied Kevin Faulk, keeping him from turning Brady’s toss into a first down.

“We had a good play. We completed it,” Belichick said. “I don’t know how we couldn’t get a yard.”

Manning got the ball at the New England 29 with 2:00 left. Four plays later, he zipped a pass to Reggie Wayne for the winning score.

Since the Colts-Patriots winner went on to win four of the five past AFC titles, Indianapolis might well be Super Bowl-bound.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

GREEN BAY PACKERS

The Packers could have given up on their season following a disheartening defeat at home to Brett Favre and the Vikings and an embarrassing loss to the previously winless Bucs in back-to-back weeks.

The Packers dropped to 4-4, three games behind the Vikings in the NFC North, and on Sunday faced the red-hot Cowboys.

But rather than fold up shop, new coordinator Dom Capers and his 3-4 defense throttled Tony Romo and Co. and helped the Packers score a 17-7 upset.

The defense stopped the Cowboys on every third down during the first 50 minutes. Cornerback Charles Woodson had a monster day, forcing two fumbles, intercepting a pass at the Green Bay 1 in the fourth quarter and delivering a sack and nine tackles.

Combined with losses by Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago, the victory moved Green Bay into a tie with the Falcons and Eagles for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.

FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 10

UP: The Chargers trailed the Broncos by 3 1/2 games heading into Week 7 and looked about finished. They’ve done a complete about-face: The Chargers have won four straight and are now tied with the Broncos for the lead in the AFC West entering next week’s showdown in Denver.

DOWN: The Falcons fell four games behind unbeaten New Orleans in the NFC South with a 28-19 loss at Carolina. They now face a must-win situation Sunday against the Giants in New York - and they might be forced to do so without ace running back Michael Turner, who injured an ankle against the Panthers.

UP: In just seven weeks, the Bengals swept both the Steelers and Ravens, the teams that met for the AFC title last year. The Bengals finished a miserable 3-12-1 last season. What a difference a year makes: With the victory over the Steelers, the Bengals improved to 7-2 overall, 5-0 in the AFC North and 4-0 on the road.

DOWN: The wildly inconsistent Eagles continued their slide with a second straight loss - this one to the Chargers - to fall to 5-4 and into a tie for second in the NFC East with the Giants. Donovan McNabb threw for 450 yards and two touchdowns, though most of that damage came as he tried to lead his team back from a big deficit.

UP: Following a disastrous start to the season, the Titans improved to 3-0 under quarterback Vince Young since he stepped in for Kerry Collins. Sunday’s 41-17 beatdown of the Bills illustrated how they’ve done it: Young completed 68 percent of his passes, and Chris Johnson ran for at least 100 yards for the fourth straight game.

NEXT MAN UP

Key injuries from Week 10:

RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), Philadelphia: The Eagles’ longtime playmaker left during the third quarter of the 31-23 loss to the Chargers with a concussion, the same injury that kept him out the past two weeks. Rookie LeSean McCoy replaced Westbrook.

RB Michael Turner (ankle), Atlanta: The power back sprained his right ankle during the second quarter of the 28-19 loss to Carolina and didn’t return. Rookie Jason Snelling replaced Turner, who was coming off monster games against New Orleans and Washington.

LT Jordan Gross (ankle), Carolina: The Panthers’ star left tackle is likely out for the year after breaking his right ankle in the second quarter. Travelle Wharton moved from guard to replace Gross, with Mackenzy Bernadeau taking over for Wharton.

OT Marc Colombo (leg), Dallas: The Cowboys veteran right tackle suffered what likely will be a season-ending broken left leg during the first quarter of a 17-7 loss at Green Bay. Colombo was replaced by little-used third-year man Doug Free.

RB Julius Jones (rib), Seattle: The Seahawks’ No. 1 back left with a broken rib during the first quarter of the 31-20 loss to Arizona. Justin Forsett, a 5-foot-8 seventh-round pick from the 2008 draft, ran for 123 yards and a touchdown after Jones was hurt.

RB Ronnie Brown (ankle), Miami: The star of the Dolphins’ Wildcat formation was on crutches after the 25-23 victory over Tampa Bay. Brown exited with a sprained right ankle during the third quarter. Ricky Williams replaced Brown and might start Thursday.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 10 games:

5 Straight games with interceptions for the Bills’ Jairus Byrd. The rookie safety from Oregon leads the league with eight interceptions and joined the Chiefs’ Eric Harris (1980) as the only rookies to pick off a pass in five straight games.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 10 puts him in the spotlight for next week:

JAY CUTLER

After six decades of mediocre quarterbacks - Jim McMahon is Chicago’s only Pro Bowl passer of the past 45 seasons - the Bears traded with the Broncos for Jay Cutler, who had gone to Hawaii two months earlier.

But Cutler is a high-reward, high-risk quarterback: lots of touchdowns but also plenty of picks.

Through seven games, Cutler made the acquisition look reasonably smart. He threw for 14 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, and the Bears went 4-4.

But Cutler blew up in Week 10, throwing five picks against a 49ers defense that had just eight in eight games.

Chicago lost 10-6, fell into 11th place in the NFC and now sit four games behind the Vikings in the NFC North.

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