By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- There's a 24-hour rule in the NFL: You have one day to dwell, celebrate or cry over the last game. And then you move on.
Peyton Manning was "stewing" on Sunday night. When the Colts' quarterback met the media he was just a shower and suit removed from losing 31-28 to the rival Patriots. He held the press conference because he was supposed to, but to look at him -- to see how he shifted his gaze and kept it low, rubbed his shoulder, fiddled with his jacket -- was to see that Manning was elsewhere.
Tom Brady wasn't happy either. Like Manning, he conducted his press conference looking distracted and harried. Neither player seemed ready to leave the game behind.
Manning was stuck in a single moment on the New England 24 with 37 ticks on the game clock. Indianapolis was in field-goal range, but for a quarterback like Manning, it was also striking distance to steal the win. The Colts went no huddle, Manning got into shotgun, he took the snap and looked long down the right side to Pierre Garcon. The pass went up . . .
That was the game for Manning. His 396 yards and four touchdowns were stripped down to three picks, to a chance to win that came up short.
"Three interceptions . . . it's just inexcusable against a good offense like that,'' he lamented. "Gave them short field on the first one. Especially in the second half, we're playing from behind and obviously it just killed the series.
"Got to the end and had a chance to win it and it's just . . . sickening that we never even got a chance to win the game.''
The Colts shouldn't have come that close.
New England opened the fourth quarter with a nine-play drive that was capped off by a 25-yard field goal from Shayne Graham. The boot put the home team up 31-14 with just 10 minutes to play. It was the Patriots' game to lose and Manning almost made it happen.
Though the victor, Brady didn't look the part. He wanted to close the game out on his own terms, and he couldn't do it.
"It would have been a lot sweeter if we had done something there in the fourth quarter to help our defense,'' Brady said. "When we play these guys, we know its going to come down to the end, as always. We started fast. I wish we would have executed a little better there in the second half."
He wasn't kidding about this rivalry being tight. Indy rallied from a 31-14 deficit in the fourth quarter the last time these two teams met, too. On that November night in 2009 the Colts won 35-34. And though Manning said a comparison is impossible to avoid, to him the difference between the two games is glaring. One pass.
"I'm just sick about not extending the game,'' he repeated. "There's no excuse to not extend the game and give Adam Vinatieri a chance for a field goal. Certainly, we were going for the win. We had some time, had some time outs and we had a good play call . . . just a poor throw. It really sickens me."
Manning refused to indulge excuses. Want to talk injuries? Forget it. He'll acknowledge that, yeah, adjustments have been difficult for his stable of new offensive weapons. But this is Week 11, and he's tired of talking.
"Ive addressed it,'' he finally spit out after half-a-minute of stumbled frustration. "I don't like talking about it. It just sounds like you're making excuses. It is what it is. I guess I would agree that it is challenging, but it is doable.''
Considering what Manning has to face, shouldn't it be easier on the other side? Not when the battlefield is Patriots versus Colts. Manning was asked what makes the matchup so intense. He replied with a particular word: "Pride."
Of course. Take two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, two of the winningest franchises in recent NFL history, too many reporters, and inject the whole mess with melodrama. Then put the whole thing under billion-watt bulbs. The pride might get amped up a little.
This is why Brady couldn't let the game go any more than Manning. Was he relieved that the Patriots won? Yes. There's just a point that follows relief when a person realizes how close he came to failure.
"Believe me, were happy we won,'' Brady said. "You beat the Colts; you've got to be happy you won. But it also means weve got to do a better job there. In the fourth quarter, we had an opportunity to go up three touchdowns on them and we had a couple of third downs that I wish we would have converted," Brady said.
"We put ourselves in that situation at the end. I'm sitting on our sideline saying, 'We did it to ourselves.' If they kicked the field goal there . . . if they scored a touchdown, weve got to out there for a two-minute drive. If they kick the field goal, its going to overtime. Thats what I was thinking. You can't . . . you know, you just say, Well, this is the situation. Lets go out there and try to get it done.' "
The bottom line is that the Patriots did get it done. It's Peyton Manning's reality right now and will be Brady's when the dust of dissatisfaction settles. Both quarterbacks will move on to the next game, as they must. But when it comes to the Patriots and Colts, it just might take longer than 24 hours.