The Patriots-Colts rematch in Indianapolis unfolded exactly the way the most experts predicted it would. The big-play offense would be simply too much for the defense and the points would come early and often.
The Patriots 38-17 thrashing of the Colts unfolded that way for sure, but it was the New England offense that rang up points at a furious pace, turning the RCA Dome scoreboard into a casino slot machine.
New England's dominance in this game was even more thorough than its performance in a 44-13 win in Foxborough three weeks ago. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis pulled out all the stops and saw his troops score in a variety of ways, most of which came quickly. Wide receiver David Patten became the first NFL player since Walter Payton in 1979 to throw, catch and run for a touchdown in the same game.
"I thought our football team was ready to play today and they worked their butts off today," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "I thought our kicking and our coverage set a big tone for us. We had a pretty decent day offensively. [Tom] Brady was pretty sharp. I thought Indianapolis came up and played us real close to the line of scrimmage a lot and tried to put a lot of pressure on us. We were fortunate to be able to hit a couple of big plays behind them."
Patten's trifecta came in the first half when the Patriots took command despite holding the ball for a scant eight minutes. The Colts took the opening kickoff and marched into field goal range. Mike Vanderjagt lined up for a 46-yard attempt but had his kick blocked by Brandon Mitchell. It was the first a slew of big plays made by the Patriots in the game.
Rookie Leonard Myers scooped up the loose ball and raced 35 yards to the Indy 29. From there, the Patriots wasted little time taking the lead. On the first play, quarterback Tom Brady handed off to Antowain Smith, who made his way around the left end. But instead of holding the ball, he handed it to Patten, who was in overdrive as he raced untouched around the right end.
With center Damien Woody and Brady providing a convoy, Patten went 29 yards down the sideline into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. But Patten was just getting started. After the Colts got on the board with a 43-yard Vanderjagt field goal, they drove on their next possession deep into Patriots territory. Once again the defense forced a Vanderjagt field goal, and again the Patriots were there to block it.
Tebucky Jones, who saved a touchdown earlier in the drive when he ran down the Colts Marvin Harrison at the 2-yard line after a 68-yard catch, got some penetration on Vanderjagt's 25-yard attempt and the Patriots maintained their 7-3 lead. The teams then traded punts before the Patriots high-powered attack went to work. On first down at his own 9, Brady dropped back and looked deep for Patten. He lofted a perfect spiral in his direction and Patten never broke stride, catching the ball at the 48 and outracing the Colts David Macklin for the touchdown. It was the longest touchdown pass in Patriots history, eclipsing Craig James' 90-yarder from Tony Eason at Chicago in 1985.
The Patriots defense forced another Colts punt, and Patten saved his best for last. On first down from the Patriots 40, Brady tossed a quick pass to Patten behind the line of scrimmage. The speedy wideout then did his best Brady impression and chucked one deep to a streaking Troy Brown, who also beat Macklin, and caught the 60-yard touchdown. In two plays, the Patriots offense picked up 151 yards and two touchdowns in a mere 22 seconds.
The Colts were reeling and they wouldn't recover.
On the ensuing possession, running back Edgerrin James was stripped on a terrific play by linebacker Ted Johnson, who knocked the ball loose with his left arm as he dove over a pile of bodies in an effort to stop James. Tedy Bruschi recovered at the Colts 24, and the offense "struggled" its way through a six-play "marathon" that ended with a beautiful play-action pass from Brady to tight end Jermaine Wiggins for a 2-yard touchdown.
Patriots 28, Colts 3 – ballgame.
Indy's Peyton Manning wouldn't go down without a fight, however. He moved the Colts into field goal range at the half neared an end, and Vanderjagt nailed a 42-yarder to cut the lead to 28-6 with nine seconds left before intermission.
When the Patriots offense went three-and-out to start the second half, Indy felt it might have life. When the Colts offense then marched 68 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, thoughts of a miracle comeback began to surface. Manning hit Harrison for a 3-yard touchdown and then found tight end Ken Dilger for the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-14.
But Brady (16-for-20, 202 yards, 3 TDs) and the offense responded to regain control. Smith's 19-yard run was the key play in a seven-play drive that led to a 43-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal that pushed the margin back to 17 at 31-14. Vanderjagt got those three back with a 24-yarder, but the final knockout blow would come soon thereafter.
Brady hit consecutive passes to open the Patriots next drive and then looked deep for Brown. The Patriots reliable go-to guy beat Macklin deep again, but Brady's pass was a bit underthrown. But Brown was so open that Macklin was forced to chase the play from behind, leading to a 38-yard pass interference penalty that brought the ball to the Indy 3.
After Smith lost 3 yards on first down, Brady drilled one over the middle to Patten, who made an outstanding fingertip catch in the end zone to finish the scoring. Patten (4 catches, 117 yards) and Brown (8 for 120) each topped the 100-yard mark, the second straight week Patriots receivers accomplished the feat.
The Colts offense racked up impressive numbers, but the Patriots defense made plays when they needed them, including several well-timed quarterback pressures and sacks. Belichick also recognized his team's healthy lead in the second half and the Colts consequently were able to move the ball against a unit specifically guarding against the big play.
Manning finished 22-for-34 for 335 yards and a touchdown. James also had a strong statistical game with 30 carries for 143 yards. But all of that amounted to just one touchdown and the Patriots quick-strike attack prevented the Colts from dictating the pace of the game.
At one point early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had run 36 plays and scored 38 points. Then they went to a ball-control approach and grinded out much of the final minutes with an 18-play drive that was eventually halted inside the Colts 20 with less than a minute to go.
So the Patriots opened their key three-game road trip with a thoroughly impressive stomping of the Colts to complete the season sweep. At 3-3 and with non-division games at Denver and Atlanta on the horizon, the team is slowly moving itself into contention in the AFC East. Only the idle Dolphins at 3-2 are ahead of the Patriots, and New England and its intriguing young quarterback are gaining confidence with each week.