By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots (7-3) rolled to an impressive if costly victory 59-24 on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts (6-4) in Gillette Stadium. The Patriots got a career performance by Julian Edelman and a razor sharp one from Tom Brady to roll easily over the Colts in a game that many of the nation’s pundits had chalked up to Indy.
But overshadowing the blowout victory was the injury suffered by TE Rob Gronkowski who broke his forearm in a fluke situation on an extra point. Gronkowski is scheduled for surgery Monday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, which should put him back in time for the playoffs. We’ll get more to this later.
Brady Sharp, Quiets Experts: As much as the players claim to not listen nor read the national and local papers, we all know they do and nothing sets Tom Brady off more than having to hear about an up-and-coming QB who “is going to outplay Brady and lead the Colts to victory” rant. This was common all week and many of the experts across the country bought in.
To be sure, Andrew Luck is everything advertised, he doesn’t rattle easily and can fit the ball (and did on several occasions) in some very tight spaces. He’s going to be the face of the Colts franchise for several years. But he is still a rookie and rookies make mistakes. The Patriots forced him into making too many for the Colts to overcome, his numbers 27-50 for 334 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs were far lower than he’s been getting in terms of completion percentage (54%), yards per attempt, (6.68) and QB rating (63.3) lately.
Brady, behind outstanding protection from the offensive line put on a clinic and picked the Indianapolis defense apart. Brady completed 68% of his throws for 331 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Brady’s QB rating of 127.2 was among his best of the season. Brady remained focused and sharp all game and just like in Denver last season, he played with a chip on his shoulder. The message: no yet young man.
Once again the offensive line provided Brady with outstanding protection, Dwight Freeney and Robert Matthis were mere afterthoughts in this one as Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer kept Brady upright all game. The training camp woes are now something far in the past. The run blocking could have been much better, but overall the unit gets high numbers.
Edelman steps up in a big way: Julian Edelman had a career day, doing a little bit, (make that a lot) of everything on the day. Returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, he later returned another for 51 yards, caught 5 passes for 51 yards and had one carry on a reverse for 47 yards, making him the biggest rusher on the day for the Patriots. With the release of Deion Branch, it was Edelman and not Greg Salas who got the majority of the snaps and he came through in a big way. Exhibiting much more speed than Branch, Edelman was finding seams in the Colts secondary. While he has a long way to go in finding the chemistry with Brady that Branch always enjoyed, the coaches have to be very pleased with this kind of effort. Especially in the STs game where the Patriots have struggled.
Talib has good first day: Aqib Talib played much more than was expected, where stepping in to a new team and learning a new system plus after missing 5 weeks due to suspension, he was rusty. Talib said as much after the game, stating his footwork was shoddy at times. He had a mixed bag in his first game, he did give up some pass completions including a beautifully thrown TD by Luck in the endzone where he had no chance of defending and a second one late in the game where he bit on a play fake, but he also returned a pick six for a touchdown in the second quarter that effectively changed the game.
The biggest impact Talib had on the defense is where his arrival changed the way the Patriots played defense. They played more man coverage and were much more aggressive than we’ve seen in quite a while. All in all, it was an encouraging game for Talib and the defense….with that thought:
Belichick lauds the defense: In his post-game comments, Bill Belichick lauded the defensive effort stating “”I thought our guys on defense did a good job,” Belichick said. “We got our hands on a lot of balls… we dropped a few, we caught some. I thought we were able to put some pressure on Luck”.
The game certainly didn’t start out well for the defense; the Colts scored on their first two possessions and were chewing the defense up especially in the running game. But Belichick and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia saw things that the defense wasn’t doing and adjusted accordingly. The TV cameras showed a Belichick scribbling furiously on a dry-erase board and talking animatedly with the defense.
It did the trick, the Colts did score on more touchdown, but was after a deluge of Patriots scores put the game out of reach. Belichick said it wasn’t so much of adjustments as reinforcing things they needed to do better. And they did.
While the pass defense did give up over 300 yards, the coverage was much tighter and Luck certainly deserves much of the credit, he rifled the ball into some very tight spaces. But there were little of the blown coverages and wide-open receivers. By playing more aggressively, the Patriots forced the Colts into 4 turnovers and the results speak for themselves.
Schemes drive the train: The Patriots remain a scheme-driven team under Bill Belichick. They change the game plan from week to week. Belichick doesn’t care about numbers, his mantra of “stats are for losers”, spell out his philosophy. It’s about the ‘W’ not the number. They will never be a shut-down defense, nor have they ever been even in the Super Bowl years. They’ll change the scheme depending upon the opponent and roll the dice. This week it worked very well and the defense stepped up and played very well the last 3 quarters. It will be interesting to see how this plays over into this week against the Jets.
Gronkowski injury a big blow: The freak injury suffered by Rob Gronkowski on an extra point late in the game has given the negative nay-sayers their perfect fodder for a blow-out win. Stop the noise. Its football, professionals get paid to play and injuries, even freak ones like this happen…its part of the game.
When was the last time anyone, anywhere was injured in an extra-point attempt? Can you name one? Me neither. The Patriots practice this way and play the games the same way, and I don’t remember one person bemoaning the fact that Gronkowski was on the special teams kick team… once.
That being said, he will be missed, there is no one better at running that seam route and the high-low option that Tom Brady has at his disposal with Gronkowski in the game. We reported that his matching up with Tom Zbikowski was a huge mismatch for New England, and it was. Gronk was targeted seven times and had 7 receptions for 137 yards and 2 TDs. That kind of production isn’t easily replaced and even the return of Aaron Hernandez can’t replace the kind of run blocking that Gronkowski brings to the table.
Hopefully he’ll return healthier than he’s been all season and be ready for the playoffs. In the meanwhile, Hernandez returning will help, possibly on Thursday and look for Visante Shiancoe to get increased reps in the passing game.
Check back later this week as we’ll have some key matchups with a short week facing the Patriots and Jets for Thursday’s Thanksgiving night game.