You can look at Sunday’s win over Indianapolis in one of two ways.
You can either sit there and think that they can’t close out games defensively, or you can look at this one and feel like they were able to make the play they needed to in order to come away with a win.
I’ll take the latter – primarily because when you’re dealing with a young defense there’s a learning curve that simply sways me the other way. If you can’t feel that way, you need to consider the fact that even with the amount of young players they have on that side of the ball, they still managed to do something they couldn’t the last time these two teams met – win the game.
Last year in Indianapolis the Patriots squandered a 31-14 lead, and ended up on the wrong end of a 35-34 final score that left everyone talking about “4th & 2” for the rest of the season. Instead, this time around they managed to build yet another 31-14 advantage, but it ended much differently, with an interception by James Sanders ending any hope Peyton Manning had of stealing this one.
“It was a heck of an interception by James. He went up at the high point of the ball – it was a terrific catch,” said Belichick after the game. “I mean, he covered some ground to get to the ball, went up, high pointed it. It was a great interception.”
Overall this one had a different feel from the beginning. There was a lot more energy on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. Granted we watched a first half that saw Kyle Arrington chase Reggie Wayne around the field in vain in a match-up that just didn’t go Arrington’s way. I kept coming back to that scene in “Remember the Titans” where the coach’s daughter is trying to explain to the father that the reason his boy got taken out of the game is because “he was getting beat like he stole something.” That was basically what happened to Arrington, to the point where he ended up being replaced by Darius Butler to try and get control of that personnel match-up. Some days things go your way and some days they don’t – and this will be one of those games where Arrington will just have to realize that he didn’t have the edge and move on.
Otherwise New England did a good job defensively of being disruptive throughout, masking a lot of what they were doing and bringing pressure from different areas that made it tough for Manning to make his reads and get the ball out when he wanted to. All three interceptions came when they were bringing pressure, with the final pick coming after rookie defensive end Jermaine Cunningham made a good play to bring pressure and force the errant throw that allowed Sanders to make a terrific leaping grab, and closed this one out.
Patriots QB Tom Brady had a solid outing against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. (PHOTO: Icon/SMI)
On offense Brady had a solid afternoon, missing just two passes the entire first half and finishing 19-of-25 for 186 yards along with two touchdowns (QB Rating of 123.1), and winning his 25th consecutive regular season home game – which tied him all time with Brett Favre. The Colts gave him everything they had, rushing Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis all afternoon but sacked him just once all day and for the most part he had plenty of time to throw. Watching this one back Matt Light will likely be pretty tired after the workout Freeney put him through, but they did a good job of protecting him.
For the most part they did a better job on third down this week, finishing 7-of-11 (64%) and were a perfect 6-of-6 in the fist half. The critical part of this one really came in the fourth quarter when they couldn’t quite sustain their last two possessions, having two drives stall after they were unable to convert on third down. Indianapolis managed to capitalize on the first after driving 73-yards on 7 plays for a touchdown to cut the lead to 31-28, but luckily for New England Manning allowed Sanders the chance to make a play to seal it.
“You play these guys, we know it’s going to come down to the end, as always,” said Brady after the game. “We started fast. I wish we would have executed a little better there in the second half, but any time you play these guys, you’ve got to play to the end and that’s what it came down to.”
Some may discount this victory, but the fact that they won this one on a critical turnover brings back memories of the days when that’s how games were won by this football team. Manning is to the Colts what Brady is to the Patriots, and as we know despite how depleted the Patriots may be both injury-wise and in experience, as long as Brady is calling the shots they’re a good football team. The same can be said about Manning, who is currently dealing with his own problems thanks to injuries with his own football team. The fact is they beat a very good football team on Sunday – and that’s a fact that can’t be discounted, no matter how much people try and downplay this win.
If that interception gets dropped by Sanders (and it really was one heck of a catch), we could have seen Manning throw yet another touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne which would have shocked everyone at Gillette Stadium and sent everyone home pretty unhappy. Instead Sanders made the play, and now they’re 8-2 heading into Thursday’s game against Detroit.
Good football teams find a way to win, and that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. Any way you look at it while they may have nearly given up a 17 point lead, they still managed to figure out a way to finish it and someone stepped up to make it happen. Overall that should leave every Patriot fan feeling pretty good about what could happen should this team win a few more games and leave themselves in position at making a run when the calendar changes over in January.
Giving up leads may be one thing, but figuring out how to make sure your team comes away with a win is another. Thankfully this football team seems to already have a grasp on how to get that done, and that’s something that certainly should have everyone feeling pretty confident heading into the final month of the season.