It would be too dramatic to say that Julian Edelman returned to the Patriots lineup and all was right in the world. But for the first drive on Thursday night, it certainly felt that way in Foxborough.
The slot receiver returned to action from his four-game NFL suspension and 2017 season missed due to a torn ACL, bringing his trademark fire and production and the banged-up, undermanned Colts couldn't keep up in the end as the Patriots got the 38-24 victory to improve to 3-2 on the still-young season.
After Edelman helped the Patriots to a 75-yard opening scoring drive and then Tom Brady led the unit to another touchdown drive after an Adam Vinatieri missed field goal it looked like the Patriots might be in line for a romp. New England built a 24-3 lead at halftime.
But the Colts would not go quietly into the night and be resigned to the blowout loss. Andrew Luck started to get things flowing through the air, including a couple touchdowns to his tight ends, on the way to a 365-yard passing performance with three touchdowns.
Meanwhile Brady and Co. sputtered a bit with a pair of throws to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski that deflected off the receivers' hands for interceptions in the third quarter.
The game got as close as 24-17 before Brady hit Josh Gordon for a 34-yard touchdown to create a little breathing room. Then, Sony Michel closed the door with a 34-yard run after Luck was the victim of a dropped pass that resulted in an interception for Jonathan Jones.
It wasn't nearly the well-rounded, dominant blowout of a week earlier against Miami but it was a win nonetheless. In many ways it's the perfect game for Bill Belichick's purposes, an October victory over an AFC foe to win two in a row for the first time this season, but one that leaves plenty to be critiqued and coached up afterwards.
A short week led to a relatively comfortable win. That's really all that matters.
And having Edelman back was a big boost to the early production and to what the Patriots hope the offense will come to be in the coming weeks and months.
"It was great," Edelman said of getting back on the field. "There are some things we have to work on. It was good to go out there and catch some rocks. I haven't played football in 405 days or something like that. It was just great to be back.
"I feel like I'm the best me right now."
Brady certainly thinks there is plenty of room for growth in his offense with Edelman back on board and Gordon getting more comfortable by the day.
"We scored 38. We have more in us," Brady said. "We've had too many turnovers and we have to eliminate those."
"We have a huge game coming up a week from Sunday."
Before settling into the long week leading up to the Sunday night matchup with the red-hot Chiefs, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from another New England win.
Julian Edelman – After bringing his usual energy to the pregame warmups under the new Gillette Stadium LED light display, Edelman caught Brady's first throw of the night for a 9-yard gain, one of three catches for 28 yards on New England's 75-yard opening drive to a touchdown. After a defensive three-and-out, Edelman turned his first punt return rep into a 15-yard scamper to the Colts 49. Things did slow down a bit from there, as Edelman dropped a sure big play third down on New England's second drive and went quiet for a while. But in the end his return included seven catches for 57 yards and an impressive 10.0-yard average on a pair of punt returns.
James White – The Patriots passing back continues to stamp himself as one of the most productive, efficient players in the game. He epitomizes the Do Your Job New England mantra. He caught nine passes for 74 yards in the first half on the way to 10 catches for 77 yards. His 6-yard touchdown swelled the New England lead to 21-3 in the second quarter. Through five games White now leads the Patriots with 32 receptions and has five touchdowns, four on receptions.
Tom Brady – The GOAT set an NFL record by hitting Gordon as the 71st different receiver he's connected with on a touchdown, the 500th touchdown pass of his career. Brady brought out his old-school dive-over-the-pile 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter. By the time the final kneel-down came, Brady had completed 34 of 44 passes for 341 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a 102.6 passer rating. The two picks came thanks to drops by Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski. Brady wasn't perfect, but as his weapons return he seems to be hitting his stride.
Sony Michel – The rookie followed up his first career 100-yard rushing performance with 18 carries for 98 yards against a Colts rush defense that's been pretty solid early in the season. Michel then closed the door on Indy with a 34-yard touchdown. Sure half of Michel's yards came on just two runs, but the rookie is bringing enough stability to the ground game to balance out the offense.
Pass rush – The Patriots got a little early pressure on Luck with a blitz sack split between Patrick Chung and Trey Flowers. Then, Adrian Clayborn's pressure led to a Chung interception. Other than that, the New England rush was pretty non-existent as Luck threw the ball 59 times. John Simon left with an injury while the likes of Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis were inactive. The pass rush has been inconstant through the first month and has a major challenge on the horizon with Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs coming to town a week from Sunday.
Chris Hogan – The veteran receiver has struggled to find a consistent role in the New England offense through the first month-plus. He did have three catches for 34 yards against Indy, but his fourth target was the ugly drop-turned-interception. Hogan should become more comfortable with his role in the offense in the coming weeks as the rest of the unit's weapons take shape, but right now it's a bit of a struggle for the veteran. And uncontested drops just can't turned into turnovers.
Pass coverage – Jonathan Jones chased Chester Rogers too often and picked up a late illegal contact call. Devin McCourty gave up a pair of touchdowns, to tight ends Eric Ebron and then Eric Swoope, who nearly added a second before replay ruled him down on the 1 with a 26-yard gain. Stephon Gilmore had his issues, including being beaten badly by Rogers only to see him drop the would-be deep ball down the left side. A week after putting forth tight coverage across the board the back end was far less effective against a corps of Colts receivers that was without its most talented targets. It must be cleaned up before the battle with Kansas City.
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