The Patriots never quite got in position to take the Colts to the woodshed Sunday night but managed nonetheless improved to 5-0 with a 34-27 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Even though the blowout all Patriots fans were hoping for there were plenty of positive developments among our random thoughts.
OH DANNY BOY –With the Colts giving extra attention to Rob Gronkowski throughout the first half, Tom Brady looked to Danny Amendola often and was rewarded. Amendola caught three passes for 33 yards on the first drive, which ended with a touchdown catch by Julian Edelman. Amendola remained a big part of the offense and finished the first 30 minutes with five catches for 87 yards, including a 35-yarder just before the half that led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. He added two catches in the second half and finished with 105 yards, his fourth 100-yard game as a Patriot.
EVERYBODY ROTATE –New England substituted liberally up front on defense throughout the game. Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch started at defensive tackle while Akiem Hicks and Malcom Brown rotated in. Dominique Easley also was in the mix, mostly in passing situations and he came up with a big play by hurrying Andrew Luck into a third-down incompletion to force a punt. He came up with another big play when he shared a sack with Chandler Jones on a third down in the third quarter as well. Overall the front didn't turn in many flashy plays and Frank Gore enjoyed some success on the ground regardless of the personnel used by the Patriots.
DAMAGED DIGIT –Edelman had an up-and-down first half, and most of the down happened after he injured a finger on his right hand. He grabbed five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown and also made a terrific 2-yard run to convert a fourth-and-one late in the half on a play in which the Colts appeared to have him hemmed in behind the line of scrimmage. But Edelman also had three drops including one that turned into a pick-six for Mike Adams in the second quarter. Edelman had Brady's pass deflect off his hands and Adams wound up grabbing the deflection and racing 14 yards for the touchdown.
KEY CONTRIBUTOR – Keshawn Martin continues to make the most of limited opportunities. Although he started alongside Edelman at wide receiver, Martin didn't get many balls thrown his way. However, he turned in one of the biggest plays of the first half when he adjusted to an off target Brady bomb and hauled in the 39-yard pass. He also drew a pass interference penalty on Greg Toler later in the half and was consistently open during the game. He has certainly surpassed Aaron Dobson, who was inactive for the second straight week, on the depth chart.
PRESSING THE ISSUE –Rookie corner Justin Coleman hasn't been with the team for a long time but he's made an impact. Veterans Robert McClain (before the season) and Bradley Fletcher (in-season) were released while Coleman was brought back after a brief stint on the Seahawks practice squad. When Tarell Brown continued to deal with his foot injury, which ultimately landed him on IR last week, Coleman's playing time was on the rise. He's shown a physical style and his press coverage on T.Y. Hilton was impressive. He knocked Hilton off stride on one third-down play and knocked him to the ground on another. While Coleman wasn't solely responsible, Hilton had another quiet night against the Patriots with six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.
INTERESTING DECISION –The Patriots last touchdown came on a Brady throw to LeGarrette Blount with 12:48 remaining. It put New England ahead 33-21 and created a decision for Bill Belichick. Having Stephen Gostkowski kick the extra point would make it a 13-point lead while a successful two-point conversion would have made it 14. Considering there were less than 13 minutes left the difference between 13 or 12 (if the two-point attempt had failed) seemed to be negligible, but Belichick opted to kick it. Ultimately it didn't matter because the Colts failed to score until the final two minutes so they never got a chance to get the lead. I thought it was a curious decision by Belichick but one that had little bearing on the game.
SECOND HALF SURGE –For the second straight week Gronkowski's production in the first half was limited. Against Dallas he caught just one pass for 6 yards and in Indy he was blanked. The second half was a different story, however. Against the Cowboys he caught a 33-yarder on the first drive after the break and finished with four catches for 67 yards. On Sunday the tight end made three grabs for 50 yards including a 25-yard touchdown in the second half, and once again they came on the first drive. One factor for the Colts was the loss of Adams, who sat out with a hamstring injury. He was involved in the coverage on Gronkowski and in his absence things changed after intermission. Incidentally Gronkowski's touchdown catch was the 60th of his career and it came in his 70th game, which is the fastest for a tight end in NFL history. Also, the Patriots entered the game averaging 32.6 points per game when Gronkowski is in the lineup. Obviously that number rises slightly after putting 34 on the board.
LINE CALLS –The Patriots were already without Nate Solder to start the game and then lost his replacement at left tackle Marcus Cannon to an early toe injury. Cameron Fleming replaced Cannon but moved to right tackle while Sebastian Vollmer went to the left side. It was the first time Vollmer got snaps at left tackle since 2009 when he replaced the injured Matt Light late in the season. Through it all the line did a reasonably good job of giving Brady time to throw, and when he needed to buy time he did a nice job of moving in the pocket. Inside the rotation among Shaq Mason, Josh Kline and Tre' Jackson continued while David Andrews handled things in the middle once again. The injuries up front are mounting and the concern level is on the rise as a result.
DOUBLE SCORE – Belichick loves to defer the option when winning the coin toss and the reason is to create the possibility of gaining back-to-back possessions at the end of the first half and to start the second. That's exactly the scenario that unfolded in Indy as Stephen Gostkowski booted a field goal to close the first half and the Patriots then drove 80 yards for a touchdown to open the second. It marked the 15th time New England has pulled off the "double score" since 2009, which is the most in the NFL during that span.
EXTRA POINTS –The Patriots opened the season at 5-0 for the fourth time in team history and third time under Belichick and Brady. … Brady started his 212th game, tying him with Bruce Armstrong for the most as a Patriot. … Jamie Collins made a freakish athletic play to block a late extra point by Adam Vinatieri. Collins timed the snap perfectly and leaped completely over long snapper Matt Overton and swallowed Vinatieri's kick. It was one of the most athletic plays you'll ever see but it was a curious time to unveil the move considering there was less than two minutes left. It would seem to make more sense to save that play for a more important time. … Chandler Jones had 2.5 sacks, marking his second game with multiple sacks this season. … Brady tossed his first interception of the season, snapping a streak of 196 attempts without a pick. … Blount recorded a 38-yard touchdown run in the first half and finished with 93 yards on 16 carries. He also caught a touchdown, which was the first of his career. … Gostkowski has now made 21 consecutive field goals.