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Game Observations: Brady runs Indy 500 in Foxborough

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Thursday night football is never pretty and the Patriots Week 5 win certainly didn’t break that mold, but Tom Brady and Julian Edelman were back together and New England ultimately rolled to a 38-24 victory over the undermanned Indianapolis Colts.

Brady notched the 500th touchdown pass of his illustrious career and Josh Gordon became the record-setting 71st player to catch one from the GOAT, highlighting the night’s events.

Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots third victory of the season.

-For the first time in 31 games the Patriots had Edelman and Rob Gronkowski on the field together. Edelman missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL and the first four games this season due to his suspension. Gronkowski missed the final month of 2016 plus the postseason due to a back injury. So, the last time Brady’s favorite targets were on the field together was Nov. 27, 2016, against the Jets at the Meadowlands. The Patriots released running back Kenjon Barner to make room for Edelman on the roster.

-Brady wasted little time getting Edelman involved, hitting him on a 9-yard hitch route on the first play from scrimmage. Edelman later broke a tackle on the way to a 13-yard pickup and a first down. He added a 6-yarder to move the ball to the 1 before Brady opened the scoring with a quick toss to Cordarrelle Patterson for the touchdown. With Cyrus Jones listed among the inactives, Edelman also handled punt return duties, taking his first attempt back 15 yards to set up the Patriots first drive at the Colts 49. That drive went nowhere, however, largely because Edelman dropped a wheel route down the sideline on third-and-five, forcing the Patriots to punt.

-The Indy 500 ran through Foxborough Thursday night as Brady notched the 500th touchdown pass of his career, a 34-yarder to Gordon that beat double coverage in the end zone. It came at a key juncture as well as Indy had just climbed two-thirds of the way out of a 21-point halftime hold to cut the lead to 24-17 in the fourth quarter when Brady bought time in the pocket before settling on Gordon near the right pylon. It looked like the ball might be intercepted when it was thrown but Gordon did a tremendous job of splitting the defenders and adjusting to the pass, easily beating the double team to secure the touchdown. That gave the Patriots a 31-17 lead and restored order.

-Gordon also became the 71st different Patriot to catch a touchdown from Brady, moving him one ahead of Vinny Testaverde for the NFL record. “To catch any pass from Tom is amazing, let alone a history-making pass,” Gordon said during his postgame press conference. “I told him congratulations and I’m pretty sure he has a whole lot more left in him. I hope to be part of the next history-making play for him.” The TD was an impressive display of confidence by Brady considering the tight coverage Indy had on the play. It also was a welcomed outcome after the pair failed to connect on a pair of first-half passes and Gordon had just one other reception prior to the huge play.

-In addition to getting Edelman back, Brady also welcomed Jacob Hollister to the mix. Hollister missed the last two games due to a chest injury suffered in practice prior to the trip to Detroit in Week 3.

-On the flip side, the Colts came to town a beaten and tired bunch with barely enough players to field a team. After playing the full 10-minute overtime in a Week 4 loss to Houston, the Colts had to travel to New England three days later and weren’t able to dress the normal 46 players for the game. In addition to the seven inactives, Indy was without linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Nate Hairston, who were both active but not in uniform. Also, starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo was dressed but unable to play due to a hamstring injury. In all the Colts were missing two starting corners (Kenny Moore and Quincy Wilson), their top receiver (T.Y. Hilton), tight end (Jack Doyle), running back (Marlon Mack) and right tackle (Denzelle Good). The first quarter was barely over when Indy lost two more players – Anthony Walker and Clayton Geathers – to concussions.

-Josh McDaniels certainly seemed to enjoy the influx of options he had as he spent much of the night using a variety of personnel groups and players. The offensive coordinator shuffled Edelman and Gronkowski in and out throughout the first half with Gordon, Hollister, Patterson, Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan. Running backs Sony Michel and James White were also part of that personnel usage as McDaniels appeared to mix and match his weapons more frequently than he did during the first month. Obviously having more options to choose from gave McDaniels more room for creativity. The additions paid dividends as Brady was to throw a variety of short passes to wide open receivers to consistently move the ball.

-Bill Belichick had a couple of decisions late in the first half that really didn’t have an impact on the game but had some interest nonetheless. After the Patriots third touchdown of the night with 1:34 left in the half, Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoff sailed through the end zone for a touchback. But the Colts were flagged for an illegal formation, which meant Belichick could have chosen to push Indy back to the 20 or had Gostkowski re-kick. He opted for the latter, leading me to think he would instruct his kicker to chip one high and short and try to hem the Colts close to their goal line. Instead Gostkowski banged another kick well into the end zone for the touchback, and making matters worse this time Jason McCourty was flagged for lining up incorrectly and the Colts took over at the 30. It didn’t matter because Andrew Luck ultimately threw an interception near midfield, leading to Gostkowski’s 45-yard field goal.

-Belichick again raised eyebrows just before Gostkowski’s field goal when with 17 seconds left and the offense facing a fourth-and-four from the Colts 27 he called a timeout. Normally Belichick would allow the clock to run down to about :03 before calling the timeout in order to have the field goal be the last play of the half. But instead Gostkowski was forced to kick off with 13 ticks left and the Colts ran a play. Again, it was inconsequential but it was an odd choice to stop the clock.

-White is off to an impressive start to the season and he added 10 more catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, his fourth of the season, against the Colts. He now leads the team with 32 catches for 270 yards to go with the team-best four TDs. He continues to do a great job of making tacklers miss in the open field, and his 6-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty. He faked a route toward the sideline before cutting sharply on a slant toward the end zone, where he was basically uncovered until he crossed the goal line. White is a real weapon in the passing game.

-There were a couple of negatives from the game, led by the two turnovers that allowed Indy to crawl back in the game. Both were the result of passes that connected with their targets but the receivers were unable to hold on. Chris Hogan’s was a flat-out drop as Brady pass deflected off his hands to Matthias Farley for the pick. The second was more forgivable as Gronkowski was hit almost immediately after catching a 19-yard pass down the seam. The ball was knocked loose by Farley and intercepted by Najee Goode. It led to the Colts touchdown that cut the lead to 24-17.

-The secondary also wasn’t particularly sharp as the group allowed Andrew Luck plenty of open receivers. If not for more than a half dozen drops – one of which led to a Jonathan Jones pick – the Colts offense could have been even more productive. Devin McCourty struggled with tight ends, allowing touchdowns to Eric Ebron and Eric Swoope. He nearly allowed a third but Swoope’s 27-yard touchdown was overturned via replay and went for 26 yards to the 1. Ebron finished with nine catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns while Luck completed 38 of 59 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. After a dominant performance in Week 4 against Miami, the coverage wasn’t anywhere near as effective against a Colts offense playing without its top two weapons in Hilton and Doyle.

-It wasn’t all bad for McCourty as he turned in a tremendous play to create a turnover in the third quarter. With the Colts driving following Farley’s pick, he closed quickly on a short pass to Jordan Wilkins. As the safety secured the tackle, he was able to rip the ball away and recovered the fumble as the two went to the ground. It was a special play in an otherwise forgettable night.

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