When the Patriots ran:
The numbers were modest but sometimes one play can tip the scales and that what happened with Sony Michel Thursday night. The rookie running back was largely held in check, plodding his way to a pedestrian 58 yards on 15 carries as the Patriots were looking to deliver the knockout blow late in the fourth quarter. A Jonathan Jones interception had New England set up at the Colts 34, and it took one play for Michel to end the proceedings. He took off around the left side and outraced the Colts defense for a 34-yard touchdown. He added 6 yards on his final two carries and finished with 98 yards on 18 attempts for a solid 5.4-yard average, his second straight productive game. There were some spotty moments prior to that as Indy's front did a good job of bottling up the Patriots rushing attack most of the night. James White didn't manage a single yard on his two attempts and the Patriots finished with 87 yards on 21 attempts including a pair of Tom Brady knees to end the game. But Michel's explosive touchdown was enough to earn New England the edge.
When the Patriots passed:
Julian Edelman was back and Brady returned to his surgical ways as a result. It was good, old fashioned death by 1,000 paper cuts Patriots passing attack as Brady completed 34 of 44 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He was charged with a pair of interceptions but both came on passes that landed in his receivers' arms before deflecting to the Colts. He used Edelman (seven catches, 58 yards) and White (10 catches, 77 yards) early in the short game and eventually got Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 75 yards) involved down the field in the second half. The highlight of the night was the 500th career touchdown pass, which encapsulated the excitement of having Josh Gordon in the fold. Gordon was double covered on a play in which Brady surveyed the field for several seconds before throwing it toward his newest target. Gordon expertly sliced between the defenders and adjusted to the pass, grabbing it in the end zone for a fourth quarter touchdown that doubled the Patriots seven-point lead. Gordon also became the 71st different receiver to catch a TD from Brady, establishing an NFL record. It wasn't perfect but for the second week in a row the offense racked up 38 points and with Edelman back and Gordon growing more comfortable it should only get better.
When the Colts ran:
This matchup would be similar to the Patriots running game in that the numbers weren't overly huge. But unlike Michel's one big run, Indy's similar numbers (21 carries, 84 yards, 4-yard average) came on consistently efficient production. Nyheim Hines (15 carries, 45 yards) wasn't as effective as Jordan Wilkins (six carries, 39 yards) but they combined to keep the Patriots front honest and were able to convert on the few short-yardage attempts they had. The longest carry went for just 16 yards, so there wasn't a huge play that inflated the numbers. Instead Indy picked up 12 efficient runs (4 yards or more, first down, touchdown) on its 21 carries, which is an excellent number. The Patriots run defense didn't slip back to its early-season ways but it wasn't anywhere near as stout as it was in the Week 4 demolition of the Dolphins. Overall the Colts ground game wasn't much of a factor.
When the Colts passed:
Andrew Luck was once on the fast track to perhaps one day take over the mantle as the best quarterback in football after Brady finally retires. After a couple of injury-riddled seasons, Luck showed why so many people were so excited about his abilities. Despite operating without many of his trusted weapons and as a result having to endure too many dropped passes to count, Luck consistently moved the ball through the air and kept his team in the game. He completed 38 of 59 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns. Like Brady he also threw two interceptions, one of which was quite similar to Brady's in that receiver Zach Pascal mishandled it before knocking it into the arms of Jones. He converted on third down (7 of 15) plus another two conversions on fourth down. Tight end Eric Ebron made life difficult on Devin McCourty, catching nine passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Erik Swoope (three catches, 44 yards), another tight end, also caught a touchdown while Chester Rogers (eight catches, 66 yards) had a productive night as well. He had the worst drop of the night, however, as he couldn't hold a perfect Luck deep ball in the third quarter that may have been a touchdown. Overall the secondary took a step back after an excellent performance against Miami.
One Adam Vinatieri miss was enough to give the Patriots the edge. Otherwise, not a whole lot to choose from in the kicking game. Vinatieri hit the left upright from 38 yards out in the first quarter, allowing New England to maintain its 7-0 lead. Vinatieri did connect from 54 yards out while Stephen Gostokowski made his only attempt - a 45-yarder at the end of the first half. Both kickers opted for touchbacks for the most part but each team tried one short kickoff and the coverage failed to pin the returner either time. Edelman immediately injected life into the punt return game, taking his first attempt back 15 yards into Colts territory in the first quarter. He had only one other attempt, which was negated by a J.C. Jackson penalty. Rogers nearly broke one for a touchdown before settling for a 33-yard return to the Patriots 35 that led to an Indy touchdown that jumpstarted the Colts comeback attempt in the third quarter. Nate Ebner easily handled Indy's late onside kick, allowing the Patriots to run out the clock.