Patriots

Unconventional Preview: Colts’ Improvement is Legitimate, But Won’t be Enough Against Patriots

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Welcome to Season 3, Episode 18 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday afternoon. The Patriots, winners of a 35-31 thriller over the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round, continue their quest for a fourth Super Bowl title when they host the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots ran all over the Colts in a 42-20 victory on Nov. 16, but some personnel adjustments have presumably repaired some of Indy’s flaws. The Colts are improved, but this Patriots team is not to be underestimated, either. Kick it off, Gostkowski and let’s get this thing started already …

THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY I’LL BE WATCHING
LeGarrette Blount/Jonas Gray: The combined totals for the Patriots’ two bruising running back in the team’s last pair of meetings with the Colts: 61 carries, 367 yards, 8 touchdowns. I realize some circumstances have changed since Gray’s out-of-nowhere Earl Campbell imitation in Week 11, let alone last year’s playoff game when Blount put up a 24-166-4 line. Arthur Jones, the undisputed run-stuffing champion in his family, is healthy this time around and has bolstered the Colts’ defensive line. And it looks right now like rookie center Bryan Stork will miss the game for the Patriots, with Ryan Wendell sliding to the middle and Josh Kline starting at guard. But the Patriots’ running game has been so dominant — unstoppable, really — in those last two meetings that even with the Stork injury and the Colts’ stouter front seven, the Patriots still should be able to grind out yards when they need them.

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Andrew Luck: I’ll always appreciate the toughness and intelligence with which Troy Brown played the game for 15 seasons. Like him on TV, too. But he has to be straight trolling us at this point to still believe that Luck, an ascending superstar, has anything in common with Andy Dalton other than a first name and a job description, right?

Gronk: Here’s hoping the theories that the Colts will try to defend the Patriots’ All-World Tight End (Non-Russ Francis Division) with safety LaRon Landry are true. Landry did a decent job defending Denver’s Julius Thomas last week, but the Broncos tight end also got open a couple of times only to be befuddled by Peyton Manning’s changeups. Landry runs like he’s carrying a pair of 90-pound kettle bells … which may actually be the case, considering he looks like the inspiration for Meathead Rob Lowe. (To be fair, I suppose Gronk does too.)

Also, here’s to Sergio Brown getting his shot at “redemption” Sunday after Gronk threw him out of the club in a particularly humiliating fashion during the regular-season meeting. Because it is a shot that will turn into one more spectacular failure.

Brown talks a good game, and he’s apparently become something of a vocal leader on the Colts. But he can’t play a lick, and he’s apparently unaware that there is no reason for him to believe he requires redemption, let alone is capable of it. As a player, he’s not even a nickel back. He’s a dime a dozen. And doesn’t he realize what Gronk did to him was the revenge? Does he remember breaking Gronk’s arm two years ago? I fully expect Gronk to steamroll him again Sunday, provided that Goon doesn’t run over Brown with the Sinners’ Bus sometime during the pregame. One way or the other, he’s ending up with treadmarks on his jersey Sunday.

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GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
Call this one a self-grievance, if there is a such a thing. A lot of us like to gripe about Josh McDaniels’s game plan, as if we have a fraction of a clue of what it actually entails and all of the game- and personnel-dependent variables that go into each decision on every single play.

I’m as guilty as anyone, especially when McDaniels seems quick to abandon the run. So it’s only right that we praise him for what certainly looked like a brilliant plan Saturday against the Ravens — and one, we should note, that did not involve a handoff to a running back in the second half.

The instant-classic double-pass from Brady to Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola could not have been timed or executed any better; it was the perfect play at the perfect time, and I’m not sure there are many offensive coordinators in the league who would have had the hazelnuts to call it in that situation. Though I have believed for a while that he’s got the inside track to become Belichick’s successor in, say, 2028, that was one hell of an audition tape for a head coaching gig elsewhere that he put together Saturday.

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COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Pretty sure he made more money at SMU than the entire group of current Colts running backs makes now. Dickerson holds a couple of other notable distinctions. He still owns the NFL single-season record for rushing yards (2,105 with the Rams in 1984). He’s the absolute worst sideline reporter ever to hold a microphone. And along with John Jefferson, he actually made Rec Specs cool for a very, very brief time.

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THE 839,929,294TH EXAMPLE OF WHY INSTANT DRAFT GRADES ARE TO BE READ FOR AMUSEMENT ONLY
Human Hair Product Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Colts a D+ — his lowest grade for any NFL team — for a draft in which they didn’t have a No. 1 pick (they punted it in the Trent Richardson trade) yet ended up with key contributors Jack Mewhort and Donte Moncrief. Meanwhile, the Patriots were tied for the second-lowest grade — a hedging C — despite finding a starting center (Stork) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is line to succeed Tom Brady in 2028. I’m giving Dominique Easley a mulligan, too. You know this to be true, but sometimes the reminder is required: We won’t know for a few years how well or poorly each team drafted. It’s all just a guess. A fun guess, but a guess nonetheless.

PREDICTION, OR TIME TO THROW INDY OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS
Despite the one-sided outcome of the teams’ previous meeting two months ago, I don’t get the sense that anyone around here is taking this victory for granted. Belichick clearly respects Luck’s all-around talent as a quarterback and Chuck Pagano as a coach. The Colts have improved in the last couple of months. But it’s also hard to figure that they’ve made up the significant gap between the teams in such a short time. The Colts are a good team; what they did in Denver was truly impressive. They’re going to be a better one in the coming years. But they’re about to be reminded harshly — again — what a championship-caliber team really looks like. On to Glendale.Patriots 38, Colts 24

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