At last, all of the wheat has been separated from the chaff. We have a final four that clearly includes the four best teams in the league. The "real" play-offs start next week, with the AFC Championship game in Denver, against the dreaded Horseface. The Pats had to dispose of the Colts in order to earn their title shot. They did so in grand style with a convincing 43-22 win. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: In a word, "physical", as the "dink and dunk" got replaced by the "pitch and punch". The Pats running game rumbled and rolled over the overmatched Colts for 235 yards, allowing Tom Brady the luxury of picking his spots with the passing game.
1.) QB: If someone had told you that the Patriots were going to beat the Colts, 43-22, you may have envisioned Tom Brady completing 29 of 41 passes for 332 yards, three (3) TDs, and no picks. How wrong you would have been! Tom's figures were but a modest 13 completions in 25 attempts, for 198 yards, and no TDs. By rushing for 235 yards, the pressure on Tom to be the be-all and end-all for the offense was removed. Nonetheless, three of Tom's 13 completions were plays of 25 yards or more, that set up TDs. The first occurred at around the 10 minute mark of the first quarter. Facing a second and nine from from his own 45 yard line, Brady hooked up with Julian Edelman on a short pass over the middle. The play ended up netting 25 yards, giving the Pats a first down at the Indy 30. The second was somewhat similar play to Edelman in the opening minutes of the second quarter. The play gained 27 yards, transforming a first and ten from the New England 48, to a first and ten at the Indy 25. The third and most notable came at the ten minute mark of the third quarter after the Colts had gained the momentum, and cut the New England lead to just 21-15. With a first and ten at his own 12, Brady froze Indy safety LaRon Landry with a gorgeous play fake, and launched a deep missile to a wide open Danny Amendola. The play netted 53 yards, and gave the Pats a first and ten at the Indy 35. This play seemed to re-establish the Pats' command of the game. It led to another TD, which built the Pats lead to 29-15. The third Brady highlight occurred early in the fourth quarter when, facing a 3rd and ten from the Indy 18, Brady hit ex-Colts' WR Austin Collie with a frozen rope, giving the Pats a first and goal from the Colts' three yardline. Two plays later, the Pats would run it in, extending their lead to 43-22. On the negative side of the ledger, on the play directly before his hook-up with Collie, Brady made a horrible decision, trying to force a pass in the endzone to a double covered Edelman. The pass could have, and should have been intercepted by Indy safety Antoine Bethea. Fortunately, the ball clanged off Bethea's out-stretched hands. Brady's second miscue of note occurred when, with three minutes to play in the game and leading 43-22, he faced a 3rd and 10 from the Indy 18...and allowed himself to be sacked, taking the Pats out of easy FG range: GRADE: B;
2.) RBs: For the third straight game, LeGarrette Blount and the Pats' running game left their cleat marks on the opposition's forehead, netting 235 yards in this game. Blount again appeared to be the second coming of Corey Dillon, carrying 24 times fo 166 yards, and four (4) TDs. The highlight of his play was a 73 yard burst, in which he patiently read his blocks, and galloped away. His long TD run put the Pats ahead, 36-22. Credit Stevan Ridley's performance in a supporting role. He finished with 52 yards on 14 carries, two (2) TDs, and a 2-point rushing conversion. Shane Vereen chipped in with a modest 17 yards on five carries, and had two pass receptions for 16 yards: GRADE: A+;
3.) OL: Though the Big Uglies had some issues with pass protection, these were far outweighed by their run blocking prowess. This unit dominated the smallish Indy front seven. Credit TE Mike Hoomanawanui and OG Logan Mankins for making the key blocks to spring Blount on his 73 yard jaunt. Anytime a team rushes for over 200 yards generally signals complete domination of the line of scrimmage by an OL. What was really telling was the success of the ground game in the redzone, as the Pats ran it in for all six (6) of their TDs. Let's hope they an keep this up in Denver!: GRADE: A;
4.) TEs & WRs: Though the Pats' TEs combined for one catch for six (6) yards, the contributions of the Hoo-man and Blackjack Mulligan came through their run blocking. As noted above, the Hoo-man had a key block in the Blount 73 yard TD jaunt. The grand success of the run game took it's toll on the stats of the WRs. As usual, Julian Edelman led the ever thinning group of receivers with seven (7) catches for 84 yards. Danny Amendola had three (3) receptions for 77 yards, including that aforementioned 53 yarder. Austin Collie added that one important, previously mentioned, 15 yard snare: GRADE: B;
II. DEFENSE: Save for that awful third quarter series in which the "D" allowed Andrew Luck to take his team 80 yards in just three (3) plays for a TD, cutting the New England lead at the time to just 29-22, this group got after it!
1.) DL: Pats' DEs Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were neutralized and taken out of the game by the Colts' OL. In fairness to Jones, it appeared that Colts' LT Anthony Castonzo got away with several holding penalties. The most notable came during the Colts initial TD drive when, facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 27, Andrew Luck converted on a nine (9) yard completion to TE Coby Fleener. Still, the DEs did a good job of keeping Luck in the pocket. DTs Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and Sealver Siliga did a reasonably good job in containing what semblance Indy had of a running game (Donald Brown gained 63 yards on 17 carries), and applied some pass rush pressure in the interior, as Jones and Vellano notched a sack each. But, in the case of Vellano, he got away with an obvious trip on his sack, for which he should have been flagged. The DT trio combined for 12 tackles, including five (5) solos: GRADE: B-;
2.) LBs: Dont'a Hightower was solid, leading the team with eight (8) tackles, including three solos. In addition, Hightower alertly picked off a Luck pass that bounced off the shoulder pads of it's intended receiver. His pick killed what almost certainly would have been an Indy scoring drive in the dying minutes of the first half, and preserved a 21-12 halftime lead. Dane Fletcher chipped in with four tackles (one solo). But, OLB Jamie Collins stole the show. Collins finished with six (6) tackles, including two solos, a sack, two TFLs, and a back-breaking interception that derailed any hopes of an Indy comeback, early in the fourth quarter. Collins' athleticism and versatility was on display for all to see, as he was seemingly all over the field. Great job of pass coverage in the redzone early in the third quarter was a four point play, as it forced the Colts into a FG situation. The performance by Collins on Saturday night was one of the finest I've seen from a New England LB since the glory days of Willie McGinest: GRADE: A+
3.) SECONDARY: On the third play of the game, with the Colts facing a 3rd and two from their own 28, CB Alfonzo Denard stepped in front of a short, quick, sideline route, and brought it back 27 yards. His play set the Pats up with a first and goal, from the Indy two yard line. It led to the first New England TD, and seemingly set the tone for the game. Though Dennard was subsequently beaten later in the quarter on a beautifully thrown 38 yard TD pass to WR LaVon Brazil, he was pretty solid throughout the remainder of the game. Fittingly, Dennard would snuff out Indy's final gasp in the closing seconds, with his second interception of the game. Fellow CB Aqib Talib was his usual solid self. But, safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory had their issues. Too many big plays were allowed. T.Y Hilton (4 catches for 103 yards) hurt the Pats with plays of 46 and 40 yards. Brazil (two (2) catches for 73 yards), in addition to his 38 yard TD grab, added a 35 yard grab. Two of these big plays came consecutively, to quickly answer a New England TD drive. That said, this group preserved the win by completely shutting down Andrew Luck in the final quarter. Luck completed just 20 of 41 passes for 331 yards, two (2) TDs, and four (4) picks...two made by LBs: GRADE: B;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Though this unit is usually a strength for the Patriots, that was not the case on Saturday evening. Four (4) penalties on run backs negated the usual good punt returns from Julian Edelman, and hurt the Pats field position-wise. Worse yet was a terrible sky high snap on a punt attempt that sailed well above the head on punter Ryan Allen. Fortunately, the play only cost the Pats a safety. But, unfortunately, as a result of this putrid play, punter Ryan Allen was lost for the second half of the game, and may be lost for the AFC title game in Denver (shoulder injury). Mistakes like this are inexcusable. Against a more formidable opponent, it would likely mean the difference between winning and losing. Nice job by PK Stephen Goskowski in filling in for Allen. Let's hope that Allen will be 100%, and ready to play in Denver. Good job in kick coverage by the Pats: GRADE: D-;
IV. COACHING: Whatever went wrong on that bad snap can't happen a second time. The fact that the ball was wet and it was raining is no excuse. Plays like that can't happen...ever. The excessive penalties on runbacks must also be addressed. Great job by BB and Josh McDaniels in transforming the offense on the fly to fit the personnel. Only the great coaches can manage this. Keep up whatever has been said or done to the RBs and OL, to get them to play like they have the past three weeks. Incredible job of getting the most out of the defense. It will be interesting to see if Jamie Collins can continue his sterling play next week in Denver. Yes, the Patriots' "D" gave up a lot of big plays to the Colts. But, did anybody really feel that the outcome was in doubt, after the first quarter Dennard pick? BB has done wonders with his team to beat mediocre-good competition. But, can they continue to work miracles against the big boys? There are no soft touches anymore. If the Pats bring anything less than their "A" game to the table from here on out, they have no chance: GRADE: A-;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The Dennard pick on the game's third play set up an easy TD for the Pats, and set the tone for the game.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: LeGarrette Blount. Very tough choice among Dennard, Blount, and Collins. Though Collins was particularly outstanding, 24 carries for 166 yards and four (4) TDs is hard to argue with.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=340111017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Hoping y'all are having a great day!