Week 11 – New England @ Indianapolis: Rush hour

New England against Indianapolis. It never ends…

The Colts left the AFC East in 2002. Apart from that first year of the new NFL divisions, both teams have played each other at least once in every season since then. It’s an indication of just how dominant these two teams have been this century, as most of those fixtures have come about because both teams finished top of their respective divisions.

Much of the credit for that has to go to both teams’ quarterbacks – Tom Brady and (formerly) Peyton Manning. The number of games played, many during the playoffs, created a fierce rivalry between the two teams.

Of course things have changed a bit over the years. Manning missed the 2011 season with injury and the Colts season crashed and burned. With the number one pick, and the ability to draft Andrew Luck, the hottest quarterback prospect in years (probably since Peyton himself in the late 90s), they decided to release their star quarterback.

In a way, they also released the driving force behind the much-vaunted Pats/Colts rivalry. Peyton went to Denver and has been successful, and us Patriots fans decided we had a new team to be our rivals. To us, it was always more a Brady v Manning rivalry anyway.

I get the impression that Colts would like to renew old hostilities with the Patriots again. Luck is, in my opinion, living up to expectations and becoming a great quarterback. So far though, his games against the Patriots have left a little to be desired. Heading into Sunday night’s game he was 0-2 against New England. The most recent loss came in last season’s Divisional Playoff round. I have no doubt Colts fans are waiting to see him prove himself against Brady.

Both teams also had something extra to play for on this Sunday evening. Earlier in the day, Denver slumped to an unexpected loss against St Louis. That result meant a win for either New England or Indianapolis would put that team in prime position for the number one playoff seed in the AFC.

It has actually been a few years since the Patriots played the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. The quirkiness of NFL scheduling meant 2009 was the last time and that was the infamous “4th and 2” Patriots’ loss. New England of course has been there on one occasion since – for a Super Bowl against the New York Giants that we will speak no more of.

The Patriots won the toss and as they usually do, decided to defer possession. The plan worked, as the Colts quickly had to punt. New England’s opening drive made it clear what the plan would be. Run the ball. Run it a lot. The Patriots hoped to repeat last season’s playoff result when LaGarrette Blount rushed for over 200 yards and had four touchdowns.

This time around it would be Jonas Gray, who had been on the practice squad until Steven Ridley blew out a knee a month ago. In the past few games, Gray hadn’t really done much, but today would be different. With the help of some excellent O-line blocking, Grey found gaps and was able to get significant yards on his runs. In the first half he had more than 100 yards rushing, as well as two touchdowns.

By contrast, Tom Brady was below his best form. Perhaps he was having flashbacks to that Super Bowl we will seriously speak no more of, but he was under pressure and forcing throws when he shouldn’t have been. Two interceptions came from uncharacteristic lobs that Colts defenders easily picked off.

At the halftime break the score was 14-10 in favour of New England. The game was definitely in the balance.

Fortunately it was the Patriots who exploded after halftime. Their first drive after the break went 80 yards straight down the field and into the end zone with a touchdown pass to Tim Wright. The Colts responded with a field goal, and then Brady went 80 yards down the field again and handed the ball to Gray for another run into the end zone. They now had some breathing room.

Indianapolis opened the 4th quarter with its own touchdown (and an amusing crab-dance celebration from Anthony Costanzo), but Brady and the Patriots put the game beyond doubt with yet another long drive and touchdown to none other than Gray. The undrafted free agent would finish with 199 rushing yards and four touchdowns – the most ever rushing TD’s by a Patriots player in the regular season.

The key difference between Tom Brady and Andrew Luck today was the use of the running game. Gray’s gains made life so much easier for Brady. By contrast, the Colts running game was virtually stagnant. The Trent Richardson experiment is not working. Neither quarterback seriously outshone the other this time around. But Brady got another win over the up-and-comer. Colts fans will have to wait some more.

A 42-20 win puts the Patriots at 8 wins 2 losses. It’s their sixth win in a row since the Kansas City debacle. Importantly, they now have effectively two wins on both the Colts and Broncos because of the superior head-to-head record. With six games to go, the Patriots’ playoffs destiny is in their own hands.

Nov 16
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis IN (66,751)

New England            7   7   14   14 – 42
Indianapolis             3   7   3     7  –  20

Passing: Andrew Luck (IND), 303 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jonas Gray (NE), 38 car, 199 yds, 4 TD’s
Receiving: Coby Fleener (IND), 7 rec, 144 yds
Pigskin Almanac “Run Forrest Run” Award: Jonas Gray (NE)

About

Sam Wilkinson lives in Melbourne, Australia. His appreciation for the New England Patriots sees him awake at some ridiculous hours just to catch their game. Like all Pats fans, he refuses to admit that one day Tom Brady will get old and have to retire.

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