DanJarvus Green-Woodhead propels Pats

Unheralded running back Danny Woodhead has helped bring balance to New England's offense. Stew Milne/US Presswire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are such iconic quarterbacks, their teams often are depicted as ancillary.

It was Brady and everybody else on the New England Patriots versus Manning and everybody else on the Indianapolis Colts.

On Sunday, everybody else on the Patriots was superior to everybody else on the Colts. The Patriots held on for a thrilling 31-28 victory in Gillette Stadium.

The latest installment of the Brady versus Manning rivalry didn't disappoint, but while Manning threw for a garish amount of yards and touchdowns, Brady didn't drive New England's offense.

The Patriots controlled the game with running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, overachievers who were neither drafted nor claimed whenever they were placed on waivers.

Patriots play-caller Bill O'Brien was masterful at mixing in the bruising Green-Ellis and the elusive Woodhead, sometimes alternating them play for play. The DanJarvus Green-Woodhead combo rushed for all but 3 of the Patriots' 168 net rushing yards.

They have added a dimension to the Patriots' run game first-round draft choice Laurence Maroney wasn't willing or capable to bring. Maroney was criticized for being too indecisive and not hitting the hole.

That's not a problem with New England's current combo.

"It's just too hard to run away from these guys," Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler said of defenders. "They're too fast, too light on their feet. You have to go through them. It's hand the ball off and run downhill. Sometimes it works that way, and it was fun it be a part of it."

A quality run game is critical for New England's offense, especially since they traded Randy Moss. Defenses are crowding the box more than before.

And with the always-reliable Kevin Faulk out for the season after two games and the disappointing Maroney traded in September, a couple of unproven backs had to step up.

Green-Ellis ran 21 times for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. He helped the Patriots grind down the clock with seven carries for 40 yards in the fourth quarter.

Woodhead had seven attempts for 69 yards. He produced a dazzling, 36-yard touchdown weave in the third quarter. He then made a stupendous tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Woodhead also caught four passes for 21 yards.

They gave the Colts fits, whatever the situation.

"With Woodhead in the game, we look at it as an empty backfield," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "He's another receiver. He has the ability to get out and, if a linebacker or safety is on him, it's a tough matchup.

"When Green-Ellis is in the game, we know they're running downhill, and they're going to get the hard yards."

The Colts were going to win or lose with whatever Manning did. He passed for 396 yards and four touchdowns to give the Patriots a scare. But he failed to tie the game or win it when, with 31 seconds left on the clock and the Colts within field-goal range, he threw his third interception.

With Green-Ellis and Woodhead, the Patriots' offense was diversified.

Brady played a tidy game and certainly exuded his usual championship presence throughout the game. He completed 19 of 25 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns for a 123.1 passer rating.

Still, Green-Ellis and Woodhead were highly prominent. Of their 60 offensive snaps, the Patriots ran 34 times.

"They're getting a lot of opportunities because we're running the ball," Brady said. "It's not just drop back and throw it every time. That's certainly important, especially in a game like this, to be able to run the ball. We found ways to do it."

Green-Ellis and Woodhead became more integral to the game plan as the game wore on.

The Patriots scored the first two touchdowns and held a pair of 14-point margins in the second quarter and took another late in the third. With 10:23 left in the game, a Shayne Graham field goal gave the Patriots a 31-14 lead.

Some teams would just pound away with their feature back. The Patriots kept mixing Green-Ellis and Woodhead with wonderful success. All but one of Woodhead's rushing attempts came in the second half.

ESPN Stats & Information charted New England for 114 rushing yards up the middle, its highest total of the year. Indianapolis' defense went into the game yielding an average of 4.6 yards a carry up the middle. With linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session scratched because of injuries, Green-Ellis and Woodhead feasted.

For the season, Green-Ellis has 568 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, the first Patriots running back to run for seven touchdowns through 10 games since Corey Dillon in 2006.

Woodhead has 529 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, certainly disgusting stats for anyone who wears New York Jets apparel. The Jets waived him this year because they didn't have a roster spot for him.

Woodhead and Green-Ellis are sharing the load and making the Patriots a better team.

"Football is a team sport," Woodhead said. "We've got to work together. We're on team. We're doing this thing together."