1st & 2nd Quarters
…Pretty safe to safe that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had fun Thursday night. He was able to call plays with the benefit of having his full complement of skill position players at his disposal. Certainly, the return of WR Julian Edelman allowed this offense to be even more productive.
McDaniels exploited the fact that Indy was playing without a number of key defenders, including in the Colts secondary. New England’s passing attack looked as crisp and efficient as ever. The OC used almost everyone on the opening drive to present the Colts with various personnel packages and formations.
In particular, bubble screens were called three times. The first two gained 16 total yards, and the third, from the Indy 1-yard line, resulted in QB Tom Brady’s first TD pass of the night. WR Cordarrelle Patterson bulldozed his way behind great blocks by fellow pass catchers Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett.
…The Patriots’ defense started off strong, too. Rarely do they blitz, but LB coach (and de facto defensive coordinator) Brian Flores called for one on Indy’s second play of the night, a 2nd-and-6 from the Colts’ 29.
New England didn’t hide its intention to bring extra rushers on QB Andrew Luck, who was working pre-snap from the shotgun, with RB Nyheim Hines to his right. TE Ryan Hewitt motioned from the left of formation into the backfield to provide an extra blocker for Luck. Safety Patrick Chung shadowed him to the edge of the formation, but Hewitt had his eye on LB Kyle Van Noy on the other side. Van Noy was standing over the right guard and threatening to blitz.
At the snap, Hewitt headed for that gap, expecting to meet Van Noy, but the linebacker actually dropped into pass coverage. That created a vacancy on the offensive left side that DE Trey Flowers filled with a speed move past LT Le’Raven Clark. As Hines came over to try to assist Clark, the o-lineman inadvertently bumped into his teammate, giving Flowers a free shot at Luck.
Meantime, Chung was left unblocked because Hewitt was on the other side of the formation. He, too, blitzed and arrived at Luck at the same time as Flowers. Great design and execution of a rare Patriots blitz.
…Edelman, at age 32 and in his first competitive game in a year-and-a-half, not only caught passes, but took over his old job of returning punts, too. In that role, he demonstrated that he still has the quickness and elusiveness that earned him the task many years ago.
He’s still human, though, as evidenced by his wide-open dropped pass on 3rd-and-5 from the Indy 44 that would easily have extended New England’s second drive of the night. Instead, the Patriots punted.
…DT Malcom Brown suffered a left knee injury during the second quarter, the result of an inadvertent collision with teammate Adrian Clayborn. It appeared as if Clayborn got thrown to the ground while rushing the passer. Clayborn was to the left of Brown and landed on the side of Brown’s left leg, bending it awkwardly.
Brown didn’t see action the remainder of the game, but was initially ruled “probable” to return. He did watch the second half from the Patriots bench, so, hopefully, the injury isn’t serious.
…Chung’s interception of Luck at the end of the half was a direct result of Luck being pressured by Clayborn and having to unload the football in a hurry.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…Safety/co-captain Devin McCourty made a couple of nice plays Thursday. One of the less noticeable ones was a great pass breakup on 3rd-and-6 around midfield during the Colts’ opening possession of the second half. McCourty did a nice job of reaching around Hines and knocking the pass down without committing a pass interference penalty. Indy had to punt as a result.
…McCourty also had his struggles in coverage, notably on the Colts’ first touchdown pass, which he surrendered to TE Eric Ebron. McCourty was just too slow to react to Ebron’s relatively simple out route.
…McCourty’s up-and-down play continued when he made one of the best individual plays of the night. While trying to tackle RB Jordan Wilkins, McCourty managed to rip the football away from him and gain control of it before both players hit the turf. It was a play reminiscent of one former Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi made against the Colts in the playoffs many years ago.
…Indy’s next touchdown, which cut New England’s lead to seven points, again involved McCourty. He was just a split-second too late in reacting to the seam pattern by TE Erik Swoope. McCourty actually came very close to knocking the pass down.
…When Brady threw his 500thNFL career touchdown pass to Josh Gordon in the fourth quarter, he made it more difficult for himself than he probably needed to. WR Chris Hogan was actually wide open after running a fly pattern down the left seam, but Brady didn’t appear to notice him. It worked out, of course, as Gordon made a tremendous catch between double coverage, and helped Brady set a record for most touchdown passes to different receivers (71).
…RG Shaq Mason, Gronk, Edelman, LT Trent Brown, and LG Joe Thuney each delivered fantastic blocks for rookie RB Sony Michel on the rookie’s 34-yard touchdown run to seal the victory. Tremendous individual efforts by all those men to spring Michel, who then employed a perfect stiff-arm to safety Matthias Farley to complete the scoring run untouched.
…Provided the players can stay healthy going forward, this offense as constituted will be nearly impossible for defenses to stop. Add in the increasingly confident running of Michel and RB James White’s versatility as a runner and pass catcher, and this could be as well-balanced an offense as the Patriots have had in the Brady-Belichick era.