When ailing Marshall Faulk left the game, Lamont Warren took over and didn't miss a beat.
Warren had career highs with 90 yards rushing and 67 yards receiving as the Indianapolis Colts defeated New England, 10-7, Saturday night to earn their first playoff berth since 1987.
Faulk, last year's NFL offensive rookie of the year, went to the sideline early in the second quarter after aggravating his bruised knee.
"That's been my job all year, just whenever Marshall needs relief to be ready to go in," said Warren, a sixth-round draft pick in 1994. "Since I was a kid, I've dreamed of this moment--a big game, going in, filling some big shoes like Marshall and keeping the team rolling."
Jim Harbaugh, the NFL's top-rated quarterback, celebrated his 32nd birthday with 225 yards and a touchdown pass, and Cary Blanchard kicked a 30-yard field goal in the final quarter as the Colts (9-7) gained a wild-card berth at San Diego or Buffalo, depending on the outcome of today's games.
But Warren was the key to the Colts' offense.
"Running back is an important position," he said. "The tailback gives the game momentum, kind of tells the story of the game.
"I kept asking Marshall, 'You're not going back in? You're sure?' He kept saying 'Yeah, I'm done, I'm done.' So as soon as I got into the flow of the game, I felt pretty comfortable."
Coach Ted Marchibroda said Faulk's knee had bothered him all week.
"He said he was ready to go, but it became too painful during the course of the game. So it will be day-to-day with him," Marchibroda said.
He also said he wasn't surprised by Warren.
"He did more than we anticipated in this game, but I am not surprised overall with his play. He is very smooth, he runs well and he has great hands. He's very deceiving."
Harbaugh was 20 for 30, including 14 for 19 for 171 yards after the break.
The Patriots (6-10) were eliminated from a possible playoff berth a week earlier.
Curtis Martin ran for 103 yards and finished the season with 1,487 yards, an AFC rookie record and the fourth-highest total for a rookie in NFL history.