When frustration boils over, one of two things can happen. A team can start finger pointing and toil miserably amidst the hot water or it can channel the anger into an effort like that witnessed Sunday at Foxboro Stadium when the 0-2 New England Patriots put a beating on the 2-0 Indianapolis Colts in the most unlikely of outcomes.
The Colts came to Foxboro with 87 points in two games while the Patriots managed just 20 over the same time. So it wasn't crazy to think this game would be a blowout, but one in the Patriots favor? Few would have believed that.
That is exactly what happened as New England piled on the suddenly hapless Colts, thumping them offensively, defensively and on special teams in a 44-13 win that was the most decisive in Foxboro since a 40-10 thrashing of the Chiefs in 1999.
For the first time since last year's win over Denver, the Patriots seemed a step quicker as they took advantage of Colt mistakes while minimizing their own. When the Patriots erred, it didn't seem to matter in what could only be described as a shocking win even if the players and coaches don't see it that way.
"That was a great win today; we needed that," Head Coach Bill Belichick said in the understatement of the young season. "That's the NFL. You never know what's going to happen."
That was apparent on Sunday as the Patriots generally dormant running game eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the first quarter and finished with 177 yards on 39 attempts for a 4.5-yard average. Antowain Smith finally broke out with 94 yards on 22 rushes and two touchdowns to go with three receptions for 59 yards. His 39-yard first quarter run set up the Patriots first touchdown and his 38-yard catch and run on a screen pass set up Kevin Faulk for an 8-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that iced the game 30-7.
"That's the way you want to play the Colts." Belichick said about the running game. "Our line is starting to gain confidence in coming off the ball."
Faulk contributed beyond the touchdown and catching two passes for 38 yards. Quarterback Tom Brady, filling in for the injured Drew Bledsoe, wasn't terrific, but did what he had to do throughout the game. In the first half, Brady completed 6-of-12 passes for 52 yards, but five of the six went for first downs and four resulted in third-down conversions. For the game, he hit on 13-of-23 attempts for 168 yards with no interceptions or touchdowns. His best pass of the day came on a 17-yard completion on a third-and-11 play that preceded Smith's 38-yard reception and led to the score that put the game out of reach.
"It was a good start for the whole team," Brady said. "We we're 0-2 with our backs against the wall and the defense came out and performed well. We were running the ball, which takes a lot of pressure off what my job is – to move the sticks."
For all the Patriots accomplished offensively, a spirited defensive charge keyed this win. Linebacker Bryan Cox set the tone early with a vicious hit on wide receiver Jerome Pathon and the Colts crumbled from there, dropping several passes along the way.
"I get paid to do that," Cox said. "It wasn't anything out of the norm for what my job is. That's simply put."
"There were so many dropped balls and catches where they just fell down," cornerback Ty Law said. "That's what happens inside, linebackers seek and destroy. That's what you want to do to get them to go outside at me and Otis [Smith]. Now do you want to go inside and get hit or try to get us? Indianapolis has small receivers so if they go in there, they risk Marvin Harrison or Pathon taking a big hit from Bryan Cox."
The New England Patriots take on the Indianapolis Colts at Foxboro Stadium on Sunday, September 30, 2001.
The hitting aside, a strong wind, which affected passes, and a seemingly solid game plan helped the patriots hold down one of the league's most potent offensive attacks.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning looked like a mere mortal, throwing three interceptions, two which were returned for touchdowns, as the Patriots opportunistic unit frustrated one of the game's best passers.
"They rushed three the whole time and dropped 15 guys (actually eight)," Manning said. "that's a lot of guys to throw against; its hard to get a big play. We kind of knew that coming in and we tried to mix things up, but we really couldn't get it done and its tough to do things when you get that far behind and have to play catch-up."
Manning was not his typically sharp self while complementing 20-of-34 passes for 196 yards, but several dropped passes, two of which ended up in the hands of Patriots defenders, didn't help his cause. Both Roman Phifer and Law intercepted passes that touched the intended receiver first. Law returned his 23 yards for a touchdown and Phifer's led directly to a field goal. Add a 78-yard interception return by Otis Smith and the defense can be credited for 17 points of its own.
If the Patriots entered the game frustrated as a result of their 0-2 record, it was the Colts who left frustrated, losing for the sixth straight time in Foxboro, where Manning is now 0-4.
"It seems [like I don't play well here]," he said, "but you win as a team and you lose as a team. I don't think it's the place. You can say it is, but its not. We were just outplayed."
Perhaps Indy's penchant for the big play and its inability to hit one frustrated the explosive unit. Big-play receiver Marvin Harrison had just three catches for 49 yards. Star running back Edgerrin James was held in check, running 17 times for 55 yards and catching six passes for 38 yards, most of which came late when the outcome was already decided.
For all the Colts mistakes, and there were many, none were bigger than the three interceptions and one fumble for a minus-4 ratio.
"It was a tail-whipping," Colts Head Coach Jim Mora said. "It was a bad day for us. There were a lot of things wrong that contributed to the tail-whipping – turnovers, two for touchdowns; our inability to hold onto some balls and convert third downs that would have maintained some drives – it totally got out of hand at the end."
While that is true, the sign of trouble for Indy was evident early on when its unstoppable offense couldn't find its rhythm. On its first two possessions, Indy managed just one first down in the start of its long day. The Patriots meanwhile were able to drive 80 yards on their third series to jump out 7-0.
Adam Vinatieri's first of three field goals (47, 48, and 35 yards) made it 10-0 and Smith's interception returned extended the lead to 17. Another Vinatieri field goal made it 20-0 at the half. Phifer's interception set up Vinatieri's last field goal before Indy finally got on the board. Faulk's touchdown iced the game and Law's interception returned rubbed salt in a bloody wound.
Overall, the Colts converted only 38 percent of their third downs while the Patriots hit at a 47 percent clip. Brady was sacked only once while the Patriots defense had three sacks – one each by Bobby Hamilton, Anthony Pleasant and Riddick Parker. It was a convincing win for a team in need of exactly that kind of effort.
"We had a good day," Belichick said. "They're a good football team and this wasn't one of their better days. It was a good complementary game between offense, defense and special teams. Our defense played good team defense. We got some real good leadership and they played big."
"This coaching staff understands what [the Colts] are trying to accomplish and its conveyed very well to the players," Cox said. "We went out there today and played with confidence as opposed to the previous two weeks. We have to do it on a more consistent basis."
They'll need all the confidence they can get as they head on the road for four od the next five games starting next week in Miami.
2001: A Super Bowl Sound Odyssey
An aural history of the 2001 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The six-part podcast features interviews with over 20 players, coaches, media members and others who were there to witness this historic season, mixed with the iconic sounds that detailed every dramatic twist and turn of an unforgettable season. Every memorable moment from the 2001 Patriots season is revisited with new-found perspective 20 years later. It's a fresh and thorough look back at the team that started a football dynasty.
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