Patriots-Colts run up the score

Remarkable ratings for regular-season NFL game

Sunday afternoon's matchup of two undefeated teams, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, scored the highest ratings for a regular-season NFL game since at least 1987.

Although final ratings won't be released until later in the week, preliminary estimates from Nielsen Media Research found that the contest averaged a 22.5 overnight household rating/39 share. It was the highest-rated regular-season NFL game in 20 years, the best since a Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers game on Nov. 10, 1996.

The Patriots' come-from-behind 24-20 triumph over the defending Super Bowl champs helped CBS record an overwhelming victory in viewership for Sunday primetime, with at least 32.7 million people tuning in for the end of the game from 7-7:30 p.m. The last half-hour also proved to be the highest-rated TV program since the Feb. 25 Academy Awards telecast.

Preliminary data shows NBC winning Sunday night in the 18-49 demo thanks in part to its NFL game, the Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles.

Beyond the football overrun, CBS was buoyed by the season premiere of "The Amazing Race" (13.8 million viewers, 4.2 rating/9 share) that could mark the best viewership of any "Race" season premiere and the best demo ratings since September 2005. An hour earlier, "60 Minutes" (18.8 million, 5.0/12) did wonders with its football lead-in. "Cold Case" (13.4 million, 3.3/8) was up 10% compared with a week ago, and "Shark" (10.6 million, 2.3/8) was flat from last week.

ABC also had a sports overrun thanks to NASCAR, though with much of American sports fans tuning into the Patriots-Colts game, only 8.9 million viewers showed up. It failed to boost "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 million, 2.6/7), though it still was ahead of NBC's "Football Night in America" (7 million, 2.7/7) in viewership.

ABC's "Desperate Housewives" (18.5 million, 6.9/16) won at 9 p.m., while the network's "Brothers & Sisters" (12.2 million, 4.6/13) came in second place to the NFL.

Fox celebrated the 100th episode of "Family Guy" (10.5 million, 5.4/12) at 9 p.m., though an original "Simpsons" (11.7 million, 5.7/13) did slightly better at 8 p.m.

NBC (12.4 million, 5.0/12) led the networks in adults 18-49, followed by CBS (16.9 million, 4.8/12) ABC (13.1 million, 4.1/12), Fox (7.2 million, 3.3/8) and the CW (1.3 million, 0.5/1).