For the second straight year, Patriots build a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, but this time hold on. Jets find a way to keep winning, Vince Young may be done in Tennessee and hot player of the week is a Mike Alstott clone.

By Jim Buzinski

How I saw Week 11 of the NFL:

New England’s 31-28 win over Indianapolis was another in their long line of thrillers. As a Colts fan, I had assumed Indy was due to lose playing on the road all banged up. And when they got down, 31-14, with 10 minutes left, it looked like an obvious loss and I was resigned.

Then the Colts made a stunning comeback, scoring twice, and got the ball back. You could hear all the Patriots fans collectively hold their breath, thinking “not again,” and me and Jim Allen thinking, “no way.” Last year, the Pats led 31-14 in the fourth quarter and wound up losing 35-34. This year, Indy had the ball first down at the Patriots’ 24, well within field goal range for at least a tie. I thought then the Colts would wind up pulling it out, but no such luck. Peyton Manning threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by James Sanders and the Pats escaped.

Hot player of the week: Peyton Hillis.

Manning was both brilliant and baffling — throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns with a patchwork receiving corps, but also throwing three interceptions. All the turnovers were costly, leading to 10 Patriot points and the game-ender. The last pick was not a good decision by Manning.

It was first down and the Colts had two timeouts. He was trying to take a shot into the end zone, but was hit slightly on the throw and it was underthrown. Game over. “Bad throw,” Manning said of his pass. “If you have the opportunity to do it and you don’t do it, it’s disappointing. I take the responsibility. … “I’m sick about it. Just sick.” This reminded me of the way Manning used to play at New England in 2003-2004, when he would throw some picks that would leave you scratching your head.

In their last 11 games between the two teams, the Pats own a 6-5 edge and have scored a total of seven more points that the Colts. That’s amazing and shows why this is by far the best rivalry in the NFL.

The game could be key in the AFC playoff race. At 8-2, the Patriots are fighting for the division (tied with the Jets) and home field. The 6-4 Colts are tied for the division lead, but are at best long shots for a playoff bye. So if these two teams play again, it will likely be in New England in January. Defensively, the Colts are awesome at home (no one has scored more than 17 against them) and putrid on the road (allowing 34, 31, 31 and 26 in their four losses). No team needs home field more than the Colts.

Flying high: What’s weird is that technically the Pats are in second place in the AFC East, tied with the Jets (8-2) but behind in the tiebreaker, having lost at New York in Week 2. Those two play a huge Monday nighter in two weeks that will likely decide the division and maybe home field in the AFC.

The Jets pulled another one out of their butts, coming back on a last-second drive to beat the Texans, 30-27. The Jets have now come back and won the last three weeks in overtime, overtime and in the final 10 seconds. That’s the sign of either a lucky team or a resilient one; with the Jets, I am not sure which since none of their three victims has a winning record.

I do know that the Texans (4-6) are done. Last week they lost on a last-play Hail Mary. Sunday, their atrocious pass defense allowed the Jets to drive 72 yards in five plays and 39 seconds despite having no timeouts. Expect coach Gary Kubiak to be fired after the season unless they somehow rally and make the playoffs. The Texans peaked in Week 1 by beating the Colts, treating it like a Super Bowl and have gone downhill since.

Who’s No. 1? If the NFL had the BCS, the top two teams in each conference would likely be New England and Philadelphia (7-3). This despite the Pats having lost to the Jets and despite the Falcons having the best record in the NFC. Philly and the Pats are the “it” teams, though both nearly lost double-digit leads to rivals on Sunday. I still have no idea who will win any division, let alone who will meet in the Super Bowl. This is just a hard season to predict. Sunday was the best week of the season so far with thrillers early, middle and late, setting up with will be a wild final six games.

Vince Young done? Weird story in Tennessee where coach Jeff Fisher has benched quarterback Vince Young after he threw his shoulder pads and left the field following the Titans’ 19-16 overtime loss to the Redskins. He also then apparently got into a postgame shouting match with teammate Michael Griffin. Young had been hurt and Fisher did not think he was healthy enough to play and Young basically threw a hissy fit. The quarterback will either be the banged-up Kerry Collins or rookie Rusty Smith.

Young has been pretty much a bust, but owner Bud Adams loves him. It will be interesting to see whether Fisher has the clout to dump Young and find a new quarterback for the future.

Bungels: How bad are the Bengals? They led 1-8 Buffalo 28-7 … and lost, 49-31. My cat, a Bengals fan based on her orange coloring, has even disowned them. It was Buffalo’s best comeback in 13 years.

Huh? Jacksonville is 6-4 and tied with the Colts for the AFC South lead. This despite being outscored by 50 points for the season. And despite committing six turnovers against the Browns in Sunday’s 24-20 comeback win. Hard to remember the last time a team won a game with six turnovers. I can’t see the Jags being a playoff team, but who knows in this weird season? They beat the Colts on a last-play 59-yard field goal, the Texans on a last-play Hail Mary and Cleveland despite six turnovers.

Bad hair day: The refs screwed up when they flagged a Detroit player 15 yards for grabbing Dallas running back Marion Barber by the hair and tackling him; they ruled it was a horse collar tackle. But Mike Pereira, former head of NFL officials and now with Fox, said that grabbing a player’s hair and pulling him down is a legal tackle. Basically, if a player wants to wear his hair so long that it sticks out of his helmet, then it’s fair game.

Hot player of the week: Tampa’s Mike Alstott used to be a huge Outsports fan favorite. “Do you have any shirtless shots of Alstott?” was a popular request (no, and if he had, we would’ve made a killing). He has a heir apparent in Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis, 6-1 and 240 pounds of hotness. At 24, Hillis is having a great season for the Browns, and is quickly gaining a gay following.

Quick hits: The Saints (7-3) are quietly rounding into form, winning three in a row. Their offense seems to have righted itself and they are playing very well on defense. They trail the 8-2 Falcons in the division, and their Week 16 matchup in Atlanta could be for the division. … I still don’t buy the 7-3 Bucs, who still haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and lost to both the Saints and Falcons. …

The Brett Favre Era in Minnesota is ending with a whimper after the Packers’ 31-3 whooping of the Vikings (3-7) pretty much eliminated them from the playoff. Favre was dumb to come back at age 41 (no way he was going to top last year’s magic) and now Minnesota will be searching long and hard for a legit QB next season (almost certainly with a new coach). Update: Brad Childress was fired Monday as Vikings’ coach. The Packers (7-3) are thrilled with Aaron Rodgers and were smart to get rid of Favre for the long term. …

The Raiders (5-5) fell back to Earth after being bloodied by the Steelers (7-3), 35-3. Their stay in first place was fun while it lasted. … Memo to Eli Manning — learn how to slide and not fumble when you have a first down at a key moment in a game.

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