INDIANAPOLIS – DeflateGate took a back seat to the Colts’ special teams, and two plays which basically decided this game.
Expecting a blowout win by the Patriots, scorned by the Colts in January in what became the linchpin for DeflateGate, the football world was treated to an entertaining, albeit flawed, Sunday night game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The game turned on two strange special teams’ plays, and the Patriots managed to maintain their perfect season with a 34-27 win over Indianapolis. Virtually no one expected this game to be competitive, but the Colts were able to match the Patriots in intensity and energy.
The first strange play occurred in the second quarter. Mike Adams had just returned a pick for a touchdown, a deflection off Julian Edelman who was nursing an injured right pinky and could not grip the football like he normally can. On the ensuing kickoff, the Colts tried an onside kick. Pat McAfee pooched a kick over the heads of the Patriot line of defenders, and the ball was loose as a scrum began to form. The officials awarded the Patriots a first down, but Griff Whalen emerged from the pack with the ball. The play went to the replay booth, and to everyone’s amazement, the recovery by the Patriots was confirmed, though there was no video evidence that showed they did. The Patriots parlayed that gift call into a four-play, 65-yard drive capped off by Colt killer LeGarrette Blount running 38 yards off tackle for a touchdown to make it 17-14 Patriots at the time.
The second play will be debated by football experts for quite some time, and it will go down as one of the daffiest, and perhaps most stupid plays one has ever seen. Towards the end of the third quarter, the Colts had fourth down and two at their own 38. Lining up for a punt, the Colts suddenly shifted into a strange alignment with nine men lined up to the right side, with safety Colt Anderson at quarterback and Whalen at center. The Patriots were moving around, wondering what in the world to do. Inexplicably, Whalen snapped the ball to Anderson and was immediately taken down by Brandon Bolden for a three-yard loss, the ball turning over to the Patriots.
Colt head coach Chuck Pagano was beside himself. He could be seen on the sideline mouthing “Why did you snap the ball?!” To make matters worse, the Colts were flagged for an illegal formation, with some of the nine men not lined up along the line of scrimmage, which the Patriots declined. The Patriots converted this into still another Blount touchdown, an 11-yard dump pass. It was the first touchdown pass catch in Blount’s career. But this play made no sense in any way possible. It literally gave the Patriots a touchdown, which in the end provided the final margin of victory for the Patriots.
Tom McMahon is the Colt special teams coach, at least as of press time.
LeGarrette Blount scored two touchdowns and rushed for 97 yards Sunday against the Colts.
(USA TODAY Images)
The Patriots had to deal with key injuries the entire game. This was the first game minus Nate Solder, who tore his bicep against Dallas and is lost for the season. His replacement, Marcus Cannon, injured his big toe in the first half and did not return. The Patriots went with Sebastian Vollmer at left tackle and Cameron Fleming at right tackle for most of the game. On their first offensive possession, Edelman caught a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady, but jammed his right pinky finger in the process. For the rest of the game, Edelman had three drops, and the tipped pass from Brady that was thrown right to him but Adams managed to intercept for a pick-six. Late in the game, all-pro special teams gunner Matthew Slater suffered a leg injury where he had to be assisted off the field.
This was the best that Andrew Luck has played against the Patriots to date. He is still 0-5 against the Patriots in his career, but the Colts were competitive the entire game, and the game still came down to an onside kick with just over a minute to go. Luck finished 30 of 50 passing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was 98.1. The Patriots managed to induce more incomplete passes against Luck in the second half and did manage to sack him three times. But Luck suffered no interceptions and did not look flustered or overmatched like he had looked in his four previous meetings.
The Patriots played mostly a vanilla defense all game long, playing a lot of zone defenses and not blitzing much at all. The three sacks of Luck were all coverage sacks. T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief each had six catches for 143 yards collectively. Frank Gore had 78 yards rushing and a six-yard average. The Colts were generally able to move the ball well against the Patriots in the first half, but were held in check in the second half until the final touchdown in the last minutes of the game.
On that last Colt touchdown, an 18-yard touchdown pass to Whelan, a key play followed the touchdown. On the extra point conversion, Jamie Collins anticipated the snap, ran up to the line of scrimmage and leaped completely over the Patriot linemen. Adam Vinatieri kicked the conversion attempt right into Collins, who completely smothered the kick. It held the score at 34-27, and had the Colts recovered the final onside kick, the worst the Patriots were looking at was overtime.
Rob Gronkowski was nearly invisible until the third quarter. He caught all three of his passes on the first two drives, the second of which was a 25-yard touchdown pass. That combined with Edelman’s finger injury forced Brady to have to rely on other offensive sources. Danny Amendola wound up being the leading receiver for the Patriots with seven catches for 105 yards. Blount finished with 93 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Brady was 23 of 37 for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Despite the interception, Brady had a higher passer rating than Luck with a 104.8 figure.
Next up for the Patriots is a home date with the Jets. The Jets may have the best defense in the division, if not the entire conference. This week was all about DeflateGate. This next week should be more substantive discussion, a tough division rival with more reasons to hate them than the Colts.
Credit the Patriots with finding a way to win, and credit the Colts for giving the Patriots a good game when they were expected to knuckle under.
But that fake punt? Ugh. McMahon may be hitting the unemployment line as early as Monday. Pagano took the blame publicly. But it was a horrific play which in the end cost the Colts the game. The Colts may have preferred to lose 40-something to 20-something than to lose the game on such an embarrassing way.
That’s why the Patriots are lucky. Or rather, Luck-y.
Posted Under: Uncategorized