- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

Bill Belichick was right.

He had no timeouts - which was a mistake on his part.

He knew Peyton Manning was standing on the opposite sideline - they’ve faced each other for the equivalent of a full season.

He was playing to win, not hoping to win - if he punted, it was a long shot that the defense would stop Manning.

Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28 late in the New England Patriots’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday put him in the rare position of having his decision lambasted.

The Colts stopped the Patriots, and Manning won the game with 13 seconds remaining.

It was the Belichick’s first loss in 88 games when his team led by 13 or more points entering the fourth quarter (regular season and playoffs).

But it wasn’t just a loss for the Patriots. Days later, the ripple effects are being felt in Foxborough and the rest of the AFC:

1. The Patriots will have to be road warriors

New England is 6-3 and - barring a run of the table - won’t get a first-round bye for only the second time during the Belichick-Brady Era.

Brady and Co. have won on the road - they captured two conference title games at Pittsburgh (2001, 2004) and won at San Diego in the 2006 divisional round before blowing a big lead at Indianapolis.

Before this season, Brady’s last five regular seasons included road marks of 8-0, 7-1, 5-3, 6-2 and 6-2.

But this year has been different. Their only “road” win was against Tampa Bay in London - they’ve lost to the Jets, Broncos and Colts and travel to New Orleans a week from Monday.

2. The AFC goes through Indianapolis

Despite losing linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, safety Bob Sanders and cornerback Marlin Jackson, the Colts are 9-0 and on their way to home-field advantage. Any playoff opponent will have to overcome Manning and elite pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in a raucous atmosphere.

Indianapolis’ defense is first in fewest points allowed and third in yards a completion, so it’s not giving up big plays. Offensively, Manning is having perhaps his best year - he’s on pace for 5,106 yards passing and 36 touchdowns.

The Colts’ biggest non-New England test is Sunday at Baltimore. The rest of the schedule is manageable and features only one cold-weather game (Week 17 at Buffalo).

3. Shawn Springs is being saved for something

When Springs signed with New England, the thought was the cornerback would be conserved during the preseason and first half of the regular season to be fresh for the stretch run, when he would cover receivers like Terrell Owens and play against opponents like the Colts and New Orleans.

But Springs was inactive against the Colts even though he practiced the entire week, and he has played sparingly (two pass breakups).

The Patriots gave up on receiver Joey Galloway when it wasn’t a good fit. The guess is that Springs is being kept in reserve in case of injury or underperformance by one of their many young corners.

4. Cincinnati is in line for a first-round bye

Maybe it’s time to say Cincinnati is for real. The Bengals (7-2) are a combined 4-0 against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and they should be favored in five of their last seven games.

With the Patriots losing, Cincinnati controls its own standing for the second bye (and divisional round home game) behind Indianapolis.

The Bengals do three things well that epitomize a playoff team: Stop the run (second in the NFL), protect the quarterback (14 sacks) and don’t give up a lot of points (second in the league).


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