…It was interesting to hear head coach Bill Belichick talk recently about the importance of the first 15 plays of a football game and how they essentially inform how an offense's game plan will unfold. In Indianapolis, the Colts' had the ball first and went on a 13-play scoring drive that was a good balance of runs and passes. While it appeared that QB Andrew Luck and the Indy offense would have their way with the Patriots defense, after that first drive, the defense understood what Luck and Co. were trying to do and it was able to limit the Colts' offense for the most part thereafter.
…That first drive by Indy ended, as I mentioned, in a touchdown from Luck to WR Donte Moncrief. Credit the officiating crew for making a fantastic, correct call on the play. While it initially looked like Moncrief's arms hit the ground out of bounds before his knee did, replays and still frames of the play clearly showed that the knee touched the turf just a split-second before his arms. It also looked as if CB Malcolm Butler mistimed his jump, leaping a bit too early for the ball and having it go over his outstretched arm as a result.
…The Patriots tied up the game with an impressive opening march of their own. At the end of it, Tom Brady found Julian Edelman on a 12-yard pass over the middle. The truly remarkable aspect of this play was the fact that Indy's defense rushed just three defenders, meaning eight men dropped into pass coverage down in the red zone. This would appear to give the Colts a numbers advantage, but Edelman found a way to get open. When the three down linemen rushed Brady, his five o-line easily contained them Three o-linemen took on two Colts to Brady's right, while the remaining two blockers engaged one Colts rusher to his left. This created a large lane into which Brady stepped up. His doing so, made the Colts defense react to him and not Edelman, who was running from the left hash mark toward the middle, just in front of the goal line. Brady froze two of the Colts defenders as Edelman got open, but two other Colts were closing in fast on Edelman, one from the back, the other from the front/side. Brady fired on the run and hit Edelman just as he was being wrapped up from behind and utterly demolished from the front. Yet he managed to hang onto the football and fall over the goal line.
…RB Dion Lewis saw action against Indy, but he didn't look like his usual quick, shifty self. Perhaps this was due to the abdomen injury he suffered last week during practice, an issue that limited him in practices.
…Second-year DL Dominique Easley nearly registered a sack of Luck early in the second quarter. It came on 3rd-and-5 from the Indy 47. New England was showing blitz with six men in the box, but at the snap only five actually rushed the QB. From Luck's left side, DE Chandler Jones and Easley came off the edge. Easley put a swim move on the left guard while Jones engaged the left tackle. The guard then chose not to pursue Easley, but instead help out the center on a double team of DE Rob Ninkovich, who was rushing up the middle. This left a gaping hole between Easley and Luck, and Easley ran straight through it. He wrapped Luck up by the midsection, but just before he could bring Luck to the ground completely, the QB released the football to earn an incomplete pass.
…Brady's first INT of the season was really not his fault at all. It was an unfortunate bobbling of a perfect pass to Edelman and the right-place-right-time serendipity of safety Mike Adams. Edelman ran a short out pattern and Brady put the ball right where it needed to be; it just bounced off Edelman's hands and when he tried to retrieve it, he inadvertently tipped it up in the air, making it easier for Adams to snag. Edelman fell to the ground and Adams kept his balance to stay in bounds along the sideline and trot the remaining few yards into the end zone for the pick-six.
…The ensuing kickoff was an onside attempt by the Colts which New England was ruled to have recovered. There were several camera angles to review, but none of them was conclusive as to whether or not OL Josh Kline, a member of the kick return team, actually had full possession of the football underneath the massive pile of bodies. The best angle appears to show the ball coming free from Kline's grasp and a Colt recovering, but it's truly impossible to say with reasonable certainty if that's what transpired. Looked as if the Patriots dodged a bullet there.
…Brady was sacked on the next play. From the shotgun, he took the snap and Lewis darted out of the backfield to the flat on the left side. OLB Jonathan Newsome, initially lined up against LT Sebastian Vollmer, gave chase, so Vollmer elected to turn to the inside and help block the interior pass rushers. But Newsome's pursuit of Lewis was a deception. He allowed Lewis to continue on his route, as Brady had looked away from Lewis and didn't see Newsome now bearing down on him. Brady wasn't quick enough to side-step either the rusher up the middle or Newsome and was brought down in the backfield.
…RB LeGarrette Blount's touchdown run was a thing of blocking beauty. Brady was under center with Blount behind him, and at the snap, rookie LG Shaq Mason pulled to the right. Kline, at RG, blocked down, while RT Cam Fleming and TE Michael Williams occupied a defender on that side. Mason ran to the outside behind his two teammates, but Blount didn't follow Mason. Instead, he cut inside, where Fleming had broken off from his double team with Williams to make a next-level block on Indy linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Williams had effectively driven the other defender into a third Colt defender, so there was a nice hole created on the inside and Blount hit it precisely. The next potential tackler was Adams, the safety, but Edelman was there to provide a key block, and Blount then cut to the outside, where he had nothing but open field between him and the end zone. He outraced safety Dwight Lowery to the goal line for the score. Great execution of blocking assignments overall for New England on that play, and kudos to Blount for reading the blocks well.
…Replays of T.Y. Hilton's late touchdown catch seemed to show the ball coming loose and hitting the turf in the end zone, but even though all scoring plays are supposed to be reviewed, there was no indication from the officials in the upstairs booth that this play was ever in doubt. It should have been more closely inspected, however, and having come on a third down play, it likely would have forced the Colts to kick a field goal instead of earning the full 7 points.
…Vollmer deserved the hands-to-the-face penalty he incurred on the Patriots' final drive of the first half. It nullified a big pass play to Edelman, but it was the proper call. He clearly committed the infraction against DE Trent Cole.
…TE Scott Chandler's offensive pass interference penalty on his touchdown catch was a close call, but I can understand why the refs threw the flag. His right arm clearly makes contact with CB Greg Toler's facemask and shoves his head back, so, it looks like he interfered with Toler's ability to make a fair play on the ball. Tough call. It didn't appear that egregious when I saw it live, and even on replays it's a close one, but I see why it was called.
…TE Rob Gronkowski's touchdown catch-and-run early in the half was effectively the same play on which Blount scored on the ground earlier. Only this time, Brady play-faked to Blount, which froze the Indy linebackers, giving Gronkowski and opening behind them to run a shallow crossing route. He easily collected the pass from Brady, semi-stiff-armed an oncoming defender, and nimbly glided to the pylon for a rather easy score.
…Too often in this game, the Patriots were having CB Malcolm Butler play very deep coverage against WR Donte Moncrief, which allowed the Colts to have some success with shallow crossing patterns of their own, because Butler was getting "caught up in the wash" of bodies over the middle when he'd come up to try to chase down Moncrief. However, as the game went on, Butler started to adjust and make some nice plays. He batted down a couple passes and even chased down Moncrief on a 3rd-and-10 to stop him short of the first-down marker. Indy was forced to punt.
…Easley finally got a sack of Luck in the third, which he shared with DE Chandler Jones. Again, it happened on third down. Easley was lined up over the center, with Luck in the gun. At the snap, Easley just made a few stutter steps moving forward before tossing Khaled Holmes to the ground. Now, Easley was free to charge straight ahead toward Luck, who whirled around to his left only to find Jones staring him down as well. Jones was still grappling with LT Anthony Castonzo, but managed to shake free of him just as Easley arrived. Both defenders wrapped up Luck and brought him down for an 11-yard loss and a shared sack.
…Now, to the play that changed the game in New England's favor. The fake punt attempt by Indy from its own 37. At first, the Colts lined up in a normal punt formation, but then the entire formation shifted over to the right, with left gunner Griff Whalen moving inside to become the center/snapper. Personal protector Colt Anderson went to the far right with the bulk of the punt team, but quickly reversed field and went to serve as the de facto QB under center with Whalen. So, nine Colts were in a punt formation between the right numbers and the sideline, while Whalen and Anderson were alone at the right hash mark. None of the nine to the right was on the line of scrimmage, and this alone is already a problem for the Colts because every offensive play requires seven men on the line of scrimmage. That was Indy's first mistake and they were later flagged for it. But they continued on with the attempted trick play and in their own confusion gave the Patriots enough time to diagnose what was happening and to reorganize to cover the unorthodox formation. The Patriots clearly had Whalen and Anderson outnumbered in the middle of the field, and New England had enough bodies off to the side to account for all the remaining eligible receivers. Advantage Patriots. The Colts should have recognized this and either taken a time out or a delay of game penalty when it became clear they weren't going to draw New England offside. Snapping the ball was by far the worst choice they could have made, yet that's what they did. The Patriots swarmed Anderson behind the line of scrimmage, declined the penalty for illegal formation, and took over on downs. At that point, it was clear that the Colts had tried everything in their bag of tricks. They knew they couldn't beat the Patriots straight up. They would have to use subterfuge to gain an edge, which is where New England is among the best in the league. The Colts couldn't beat the Patriots at their own game, and the outcome was essentially decided right then and there. The Colts' body language made it clear they were not going to be able to mount enough of a comeback to win the game. This play encapsulated the evening.
…Blount's second TD was his first of the receiving variety in the NFL. He was initially lined up in the backfield to Brady's right in the shotgun. At the snap, from the Indy 11, he released straight up the middle, through the line of scrimmage, and turned to face Brady as an option for a short pass. Brady was feeling pressure from up the middle of the o-line, though, so he started scrambling to the right. Blount saw this and followed suit, drifting in that direction as well. With Colts defenders zeroing in on Brady, Blount was left free to find a hole in the defense. Brady zinged a pass to him and he caught it in stride, turned, and dove head-first over the goal line as a Colt defender cut him off at the knees. It was just a nice improvised effort on a broken play.
…Jones got credit for a full sack of Luck a few plays later when he just bull-rushed Castonzo and drove him into the backfield. Luck stepped up to try to evade the pressure, but Jones reached in and grabbed him for an 4-yard loss. Again, nothing fancy here. Just a good individual effort by Jones.
…Another Jones sack came on the ensuing possession on 3rd-and-7. This time, Jones didn't rush Castonzo, but stunted from the edge to the middle. LG Jack Mewhort tried to pick Jones up, but was too slow to react. No one touched Jones as he shot through the gap in the middle of the line and wrestled Luck to the ground for an 8-yard loss and a forced punt.
…Brady's second and final sack was the result of a nicely-timed safety blitz by Lowery, also on a 3rd-and-7. Lowery took a circuitous route around the right end and no one accounted for him. He was unscathed as he came into view at the last second from Brady's right. The QB had no choice but to give himself up.
…Indy's final TD was just a nice route by Whalen against safety Devin McCourty. Whalen, from the slot, ran a stutter-step fake to the outside before cutting back up the seam. McCourty was with him most of the way, but Whalen was able to separate from him near the goal line and Luck placed the ball exactly where Whalen could get it. McCourty had his back to the ball and didn't make a good play on the ball.
…Perhaps the most entertaining play of the night came on the ensuing extra point attempt. LB Jamie Collins was standing up a couple yards in front of the long snapper. Just before the snap, Collins shot toward the line and leapt over Matt Overton just as he was snapping the ball. Collins effortlessly cleared Overton, then jumped straight up with his hands in the air and pivoting his hips to avoid being hit by Adam Vinatieri's kick in a sensitive area. The ball glanced off Collins' hip and eventually rolled off to the sideline. Unbelievable timing and athleticism by Collins. And an appropriate ending to another bizarre night of Patriots-Colts football.