…The Colts should have known it was going to be a long day for them, based on how they performed in the first quarter. QB Andrew Luck was off-target on his first two pass attempts to open receivers, then return specialist Josh Cribbs muffed New England's first punt of the day, giving the ball right back to the Patriots deep in Colts territory. When Luck was hitting his receivers in the hands, they often were dropping the ball. Indy had a bit of success early running the football with Dan Herron, and that helped put together a nice long drive on their second possession. However, that ended with sure-fire kicker Adam Vinatieri badly missing a 51-yard field goal that he pushed wide right. It was the start of a long, frustrating night for the Colts.
…New England, as they did in their previous win at Indy, utilized rookie Cameron Fleming in several "jumbo" or "heavy" packages to run the football with LeGarrette Blount. Fleming would report in as the sixth offensive lineman and declare himself an eligible receiver to position himself as an extra tight end, in effect, at the end of the o-line. But it was really fullback James Develin and his excellent blocking in front of Blount that opened up the running room for Blount on most of those plays.
…The reversal, after review, of Blount's initial scoring plunge was the proper call by the officiating crew of referee Walt Anderson. Blount's knee touched the ground before Blount could cross the plane of the goal line with the football. It was inevitable, though, that Blount would score. On the very next play, Blount followed Develin up the middle as the interior o-line helped plow through the Colts' front.
…When they got the ball back after Vinatieri's miss, the Patriots tried once again to use TE Michael Hoomanawanui as an ineligible receveiver – the fifth o-lineman, if you will – like they did with him and RB Shane Vereen alternating in that role last week against Baltimore. The formation had Hooman split wide right like a receiver, but he was out there as a blocker for WR Brandon LaFell, who was thrown a screen pass. Hooman and TE Rob Gronkowski were ready to serve as LaFell's screen, but he dropped the pass. Good design concept, but the Colts seemed to have had it covered anyway, even if LaFell had made the catch. It was interesting, however, to see New England employ the tactic again after its effectiveness against the Ravens. Indy's D was ready for it on that play, but they wouldn't be later in the game when New England used another unconventional formation look.
…New England's second touchdown was set up by the effective running of Blount and blocking of Develin earlier. The Patriots came out on 2nd-and-goal from the IND 1 with a classic goal line running formation: three tight ends, two of whom were tight to the line, with Hooman wide left. Develin and Blount were in a broken I-formation behind Brady, who was under center. But at the snap, Brady didn't even fake a handoff. He went straight for the pass, as Develin fleered out of backfield to the right at a 45-degree angle. Blount threw a nice block on a blitzing Colt to give Brady time to float a pass to Develin. He made a nice catch at the 1, then protected the football well with both arms as he used his legs to grind through the would-be tackle of LB D'Qwell Jackson. Develin dove over the goal line just as three other Colts defenders descended on him.
…DE Rob Ninkovich had a decent first quarter. He pressured Luck a few times, and knocked down two of Luck's pass attempts at or near the line of scrimmage.
…Blount, as he did in last year's playoff win over the Colts, began to feel more comfortable as the game went on. In the second quarter, he used his vision and agility several times to cut back, bounce out, and gain extra yardage by weaving through Indy's defense when it seemed no running room was open for him.
…As vulnerable as he appeared last week against the Ravens' aggressive front, Josh Kline did a much better job against the Colts as the fill-in right guard. Kline had to plug into Ryan Wendell's spot because Wendell was taking over for the injured Bryan Stork again at center. Indy certainly doesn't have as threatening a d-line as Baltimore, but Kline's play was noticeably improved this week.
…It was a sloppy second quarter for the Patriots overall, with four penalties, three of them on defense, and a Brady interception, which happened on the one offensive penalty. As a Colts defender was rushing up the middle, LG Dan Connolly was beaten and tried to make up for it by dragging the Colt down as he was about to get in Brady's face. The QB may have panicked and forced a throw down the seam to Gronkowski. Jackson was in the right position in the passing lane, however, and stepped in front of the ball as Gronkowski was about to make the catch at the goal line. Would've been negated anyway due to Connolly's penalty.
…Vince Wilfork's penalty for unnecessary roughness was simply a mental lapse on his part. Ninkovich and LB Jonathan Casillas had already dropped TE Jack Doyle for a 5-yard loss on a short pass to the flat, and Wilfork came flying in with an elbow to Doyle's head. Deserved the flag, and it gave the Colts momentum they'd otherwise lost deep in their own end.
…Indy went on to march 93 yards for a short touchdown plunge by RB Zurlon Tipton. LB Jamie Collins, coming off the right edge of the o-line, nearly made the tackle by beating a block and getting in the backfield, but New England's defense was late to respond as a group to Indy's hurry-up and had 13 men on the field. So, had Collins even brought Tipton down, it would have been a first down inside the 1 for Indy anyway.
…I mentioned that the Colts weren't ready for New England's unconventional o-line earlier. Early in the third quarter, they came out with it again. This time, left tackle Nate Solder reported as eligible, but lined up like he normally would in his left tackle spot, in a three-point stance. Fleming was the fifth ineligible lineman, but he was lined up to the right of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, where he might normally be in a jumbo/heavy package. At the snap, Solder was engaged momentarily by OLB Jonathan Newsome, but Solder quickly released and let the rookie continue on toward Brady. The play was designed this way, to allow Solder to sneak free and for Brady to loft the ball over the oncoming defender's head. Solder, a tight end originally at the University of Colorado, made a nice high-point grab after spinning 180 degrees for the ball, then turned at around the 13-yard line and raced for the goal line. At the 3, a pair of Colts defenders caught up to Solder, but he lunged his 6-8 body forward and broke the plane of the goal line for the score. Great athleticism displayed by Solder, and a wonderfully executed play by the Patriots.
…Ninko was again disruptive to Luck on back-to-back plays on the ensuing Colts possession. He hurried Luck into throwing a bad ball, and even may have deflected it, then shook a blocker to make a nice tackle on a short run on the next play.
…Brady's next touchdown pass went to Gronkowski, and it was an all-too-familiar play. Gronk was the lone receiver split wide to one side, this time the right, down in the goal-to-go territory. He was single-covered by CB Greg Toler, over whom he towered. Gronk just runs a quick slant across the front of the corner's body and shields him from the ball. Brady makes the easy throw for the pitch-and-catch. We've seen this numerous times this season and it is unstoppable.
…CB Darrelle Revis intercepted Luck on the next drive with a great individual effort. The Colts had a trips-right bunch formation which they used to try to set a legal pick on Revis in order to free up WR T.Y. Hilton. Revis, however, fought through the screen and held his ground. He actually wound up with a better angle on the ball than Hilton and was able to see Luck targeting him, step in front of the opponent, and make the grab. Great recognition by Revis and a nice job of using his strength not to get pushed around and out of position.
…New England scored on the very next play with a 13-yard run by Blount. The Patriots actually didn't do anything fancy on this play, blocking-wise. They had their five traditional o-linemen in place, with Fleming the extra body on the left and Gronkowski motioning from the left side to the right, so that there were seven blockers on the line of scrimmage. At the snap, they all just took on a defender, and Blount squeezed through an opening up the middle. He found his way into the second level of the defense, where three Colts tried to take him down. One fell to the ground and Blount barreled his way through the other two as he dove for the goal line.
…Develin once again provided the key block on Blount's third and final touchdown run, a 2-yard plunge at the start of the fourth quarter. Nothing fancy here, either, but Develin did his job and Blount followed him up the middle, then had to push through the backs of left guard Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell, who were both engaging Colts defenders at the goal line. The Patriots just imposed their will on the Colts front all night in these short-yardage running situations.
…LB Jamie Collins picked off Luck to put an exclamation point on the victory halfway through the final quarter. Collins was standing up behind the d-line. At the snap, he moved to his right to guard Tipton coming out of the backfield. Luck never took his eyes off Tipton, so, Collins made an easy read to step in front of the intended receiver and snag the ball out of the air. Luck telegraphed where he was going with the ball the whole way and Collins made a nice play.
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