It may not have been the bloodbath beatdown that so many Patriots (5-0) fans were hoping for, but in the end Bill Belichick's team did enough to pull away from the Colts (3-3) for the 34-27 win on Sunday Night Football.
The game played out much differently than recent battles between these to frequent conference foes. New England came out throwing the football against a more-than-suspect Indy secondary. Tom Brady threw the ball 37 times, notching 23 completions for 312 yards with three touchdowns and his first interception of the season for a 104.8.
Even with the more pass-first attack and New England running 25 times rather than 40-plus, LeGarrette Blount had another productive outing against a Colts team he's dominated in the last two postseasons. The big back finished with 93 yards on his game-high 16 carries (5.8 avg.), including a 38-yard touchdown. Blount, who also had a touchdown catch, now has eight rushing touchdowns in his last three games against the Colts run defense, one that's actually a bit better this year.
New England's own defense stepped up to the plate, especially in the second half. Trailing at the half for the first time all year, 21-20, the Patriots held the Colts scoreless after the break until just more than a minute to go in the game.
The unit used three- and four-man rushes to pressure Andrew Luck throughout the second half to help out a banged up pass defense that's being stretched thin after Tarell Brown (foot) landed on IR. The group forced four punts and two turnovers on downs on the first six drives of the second half before Luck hit Griff Whalen for a late, last-ditch score.
The game included plenty of big plays and a few momentum changes. The Colts got out of the gates with a 13-play, 89-yard march to a Donte Moncrief touchdown. The Patriots answered later in the first quarter with a Julian Edelman 12-yard score.
The Colts were aggressive with an onside kick attempt on their second score of the night, a Mike Adams interception return for a touchdown. Officials quickly ruled that Josh Kline recovered the surprise special teams play, but replay revealed that was unlikely though there was no conclusive evidence of an Indy recovery so the visitors retained possession.
In the third quarter Indy tried a curious fake punt with receiver Griff Whalen lining up as the center with Colt Anderson lining up to take the snap on fourth-and-three at the Colts 37. The rest of the home team was lined up wide to the right. Whalen snapped the ball to a seemingly unsuspecting Anderson, who was tackle for a loss by Brandon Bolden. A few plays later Blount's 11-yard score put the Patriots up 34-21 and seemingly sucked the life out of the Colts potential upset.
It was another week of significant contributions from all three phases of the game as the Patriots remained perfect on the season.
"Always good to come into Indianapolis and win," Bill Belichick said. "In the end we played well enough in all three phases to win. Give the players a lot of credit. They played well tonight. But we have to find a way to play better."
It wasn't perfect and not nearly the domination many were looking for in this rematch of last January's AFC title game that ignited the Deflategate controversy that dragged the reputation of the Patriots and Brady through the mud for months, but New England moves forward with another win. There's plenty to work on. But, more importantly, there is plenty to build on.
Before moving on to another rivalry battle with the Jets next Sunday in Foxborough, here's a final look at some of the individual personnel highs and lows coming out of the win over Chuck Pagano's curious Colts:
Stephen Gostkowski – The kicker remains a mainstay buy here each and every week. Gostkowski went two for two on his field goals (40, 35) and hit his four PATs, as he's yet to miss a kick on the season. His 21 straight field goals is the longest consecutive-kick streak in the NFL. He also put all seven of his kickoffs in the end zone, with six for touchbacks. The seventh was returned to just the Indy 11. Mr. Perfect is the best kicker in the game today.
*Dominique Easley – *The second-year lineman was a disruptive force a handful of times against Indy. He had a nice second-quarter pressure on third down to force an Andrew Luck throwaway. Easley got his man in the third quarter when he beat the center off the ball with ease to get to Luck for a sack he shared with Chandler Jones.
*Danny Amendola – *It's not too often that Julian Edelman is not the Patriots leading receiver. But on this night that honor went to Amendola, who had seven catches for 105 yards, including a 35 yarder.
*Rob Gronkowski – *The All-Pro tight end was held without a catch in the first half, when he was targeted just once. But he got things going on the opening drive of the second half for the second straight week, this time capping the scoring march for the 25-yard touchdown. It was the 60th career touchdown in his 70th game, fastest for any tight end in history. Gronkowski finished with just three catches for 50 yards, but as he did in Dallas a week earlier he helped jumpstart the second half for the visiting team.
*Chandler Jones – *New England's defensive end got to the opposing passer a trio of times for the second time this season. Jones finished with 2.5 sacks for a total of 17 yards lost. Jones also had four tackles on the night, stepping up with Jabaal Sheard leaving early with an ankle injury.
*Jamie Collins – *The linebacker had five tackles and a pass defense. But his block of Adam Vinatieri's final PAT attempt – in which Collins jumped right over the center to easily knock the ball down – was the athletic play of the night. It was another example of Collins' freakish athletic ability.
*Jerod Mayo – *How far the New England defensive captain has fallen down the depth chart. Even on a night when Dont'a Hightower was inactive due to a rip injury, the former All-Pro Mayo was basically an afterthought in the defensive game plan. With the Patriots using plenty of 4-2-5 sets, the two linebackers were Jamie Collins and first-year New England defender Jonathan Freeny.
Aaron Dobson – Dobson was inactive for the second straight week, with Keshawn Martin again seeing significant reps, including a 39-yard reception. The third-year former second-round pick could be challenged for his roster spot next week when veteran Brandon LaFell (foot) is eligible to come off of PUP.
Julian Edelman – New England's top receiver had a tough night that actually began just after a 12-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. Edelman appeared to suffer a minor finger ailment on the catch. After that he had a couple drops, including one that he batted up in the air that led to a Mike Adams 14-yard interception return for a touchdown. Edelman actually finished with six catches for 50 yards and the score, but it wasn't his best of nights.
Devin McCourty – The captain had a pair of costly penalties. He had a block in the back to bring back a big 36-yard Julian Edelman punt return. In the second quarter, the safety earned an 18-yard pass interference penalty to the Indy 8 that set up a T.Y. Hilton touchdown reception to give the home team a 21-17 lead. Though not a given, McCourty also failed to come up with an interception of a tipped Luck pass in the fourth quarter before allowing Whalen to score an 18-yard touchdown to pull the home team to within a score with less than two minutes to play.
What do you think our list of personnel highs and lows? Let us know with a comment below!