Jonas Gray had a fantastic night for the New England Patriots rushing for 199 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Patriots win over the Colts. (USA TODAY Images)
On a night where the New England Patriots passing offense sputtered in the first half, they put their offensive game plan behind their offensive line and 1st year player Jonas Gray who had a fantastic evening running the ball. Gray ran 38 times for 199 yards for four huge touchdowns as they routed the Indianapolis Colts 42-20.
As we pointed out in our pre-game matchups, the opportunities were there for the Patriots to run up the middle on this Colts defense as their #9 ranking against the run was more of an issue of how potent their offense is and teams having to play from behind, than it was how stout they are up front.
Establishing the run early the Patriots behind two Gray touchdown runs had a comfortable 14-3 before an errant Brady interception gave the Colts life just before the half which led to a Andrew Luck touchdown pass to narrow the lead to 14-10.
But the New England offense took control right from the outset of the second half, pounding the ball between the tackles and with Brady much sharper they kept scoring and kept the Colts in catch up mode for the rest of the night.
With this win the Patriots improve to 8-2 and have put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC for the #1 seed. Against the top three divisional leaders (Indy, Denver, Cinn) in head-to-head play, theyâve dominated all of them by a combined score of 128-58.
Interesting Stat of the Day: Patriotsâ running backs got 248 yards rushing, while Indyâs? They could only manage 4 yards rushing. That is a perfect road winning football formula. In Sundayâs game the Patriots rushed for 244 yards on 45 carries with 4 TDs. In the playoff game in January, they rushed for 234 yards on 46 carries with six TDs.
And Bill Belichick finally won a game in Lucas Oil Stadium, which has been the site of numerous awful performances by the Patriots both against the Colts and the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Here are some other observations from the game:
4 Shades of Gray: In just his fourth NFL game, Gray was immense for the Patriots. One of the only knocks the past five weeks during their recent winning streak, has been the inability to run the ball consistently, especially in short yardage as well as the goal line. For this night at least, those issues were put to rest.
The Patriots entered the game with three rushing touchdowns on the season. Gray accounted for four alone on Sunday night as well as punishing the Colts defenders again and again. They frequently hit him short of the first down markers only to find themselves tossed aside as he kept his legs churning.
With the team missing Â the big, physical Stevan Ridley in the running game, Gray at 5â10, 230 more than fits the bill as a powerful, physical presence in the interior. He wonât make anyone miss, but he can run over defenders and his play tonight easily gives him the Player of the Game nod.
Jonas Gray, here doing an interview after practice is a big physical back that can really boost the effectiveness of the offense. (SBalestrieri photo)
Offensive Line Huge: With a five game winning streak averaging 40+ points, it was mainly thru the pass as the OL hadnât got a big, consistent push upfront for the running game. The offensive line had a fantastic night as well especially in the running game as time after time, they pushed the Colts defense back at the point of attack.
Since they settled on a starting five of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer, the offense has really taken off. Another 40+ point effort and this time by grinding the ball down the throats of a defense that knew it was coming until Tom Brady and the passing game got untracked.
On Sunday, they frequently used an extra offensive lineman, rookie T Cameron Fleming as an extra blocker and the running game was unstoppable all game long.
Brady Rebounds After Bad 1st Half: Tom Brady during the current winning streak has been on fire. But in the first half, he was tentative, didnât step into his throws and made two bad decisions that resulted in interceptions. Brady was only 10-19 for 84 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs at half time.
His second pick was a particularly bad decision, he audibled at the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 1 and called a deep pass play to Gronkowski. But the Colts blitzed up the middle and Brady, falling away should have taken the sack. Instead he floated an awful pass down the sideline that was easily picked off by Mike Adams and set up the Colts for an easy touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first half.
But Brady salvaged his night and the game with touchdown drives on the first four drives of the second half. He was much sharper as well, completing 9-11 for 173 yards and 2 TDs as well as 0 INTs.
Bradyâs final numbers for the night were 19-30 for 257 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs for a QB rating of only 85.0. Hardly the type of night heâs been putting up during the winning streak but good enough with the way the running game was going.
Any Doubts About Defense Now?: The Patriots defense once again faced one of the top QBs in the game and frustrated him when it mattered most. Andrew Luck, again as we mentioned in our pregame was going to get his yards, but the key to the game was stopping him in the red-zone and keeping the Colts out of the end zone.
Darrelle Revis and Kyle Arrington get very high marks in the secondary taking T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne out of the game. Wayne had a 46 yard catch early but that was more of breakdown in coverage where Revis passed him off to a safety who didnât read the play correctly. Hilton had only 3 catches for 24 yards which was a huge win for New England. The one interception they got from Luck was more a case of Revis making a great play on the ball and tipping it, which Devin McCourty intercepted.
Overall Luck was solid but far from the fantastic QB who has been tearing it up all season. Luck completed 23-39 for 303 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT for a QB rating of 90.
They didnât force Luck into any real bad decisions, but the coverages were solid all night long and holding the Colts offense, which had been averaging over 30 points per game to only 20 on the road has to be a satisfying performance.
Also the much maligned Patriots run defense held the Colts to only 19 yards on 17 carries. Luck was the leading ground gainer with 15 yards and wasnât a factor in scrambling and making plays with his feet. The Patriots made Indy one-dimensional and that was a huge boost in quieting the crowd.
Coby Fleener had a fantastic day for the Colts hauling in seven passes for 144 yards, consistently getting separation and making big plays down the field. No doubt his area of the film study this week will be dissected by the coaching staff as they will attempt to remedy this going forward.
The past two games the Patriots have held Denver and Indy to a combine 62 yards rushingâŠ..Much better since the struggles earlier in the year. Vince Wilfork and Dominique Easley were big in stuffing the run at the point of attack as were linebackers Dontâa Hightower and Jamie Collins.
Gronk Huge Game Receiving/Blocking: Rob Gronkowski was dominant all game long in the Patriots running game helping spring Gray on his runs. There was a lot of jawing going on between Gronkowski and Sergio Brown, the former Patriots safety who was given the task of slowing him down in the passing game.
On a touchdown run by Gray in the second half, Gronkowski put a stamp on the night when he drove Brown off the ball and five yards out of bounds and then rag-dolled him to the ground like a sack of mail, much like Brandon Browner did to Kenbrell Thompkins in training camp.
Although Gronkowski was flagged on the play 15 yards for a personal foul, it put forth the point that heâs all the way back and if teams want to get physical with him, it might not be a good idea to poke the bear.
Gronk also added 4 catches for 71 yards including a 26 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter where he dragged several Colts defenders down the field and into the end zone.
Third down Efficiency: The Patriots came into Indy with the knowledge that the Colts were the #1 defense in the NFL on third down (30.2%), and more impressively at home, the Colts had only allowed 8 of 45 attempts (16 %) on third down.
Thanks in part to the outstanding running game, the Patriots converted on 9 of 12 third down attempts and held Indy to just 5 of 13 third downs. The Colts were only 1 of 3 on fourth down.
Looking Ahead: The Patriots return home to Foxboro next week to take on the Detroit Lions (6-4) in another big matchup. They will then go back out on the road to take on the Green Bay Packers and then the San Diego Chargers.
In what was circled as a critical six game schedule of the season the Patriots are halfway thru it and they are 3-0. The next three are going to be tough but as of right now, this team and Bill Belichick have to be very confident to win against anyone.
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