INDIANAPOLIS – Life isn't always black and white. Sometimes, there are infinite shades of gray.
That was the case in Indianapolis Sunday, where the entire day was overcast and gray, and the night was even more so.
All week long, the hype machine was churning out Tom Brady-versus-Andrew Luck story lines, but neither QB was particularly impressive when the game finally kicked off. Instead, the star of the game was unheralded running back Jonas Gray.
While Brady was misfiring, throwing a pair of first-half interceptions, Gray kept the Patriots at least one step ahead of Luck's Colts all night long, with not one, not two, not even three, but four – yes, a team record four – rushing touchdowns.
The Colts had their first-half chances to move the ball, but stumbled when it seemed like they were in position to strike. A dropped ball by a wide open Ahmad Bradshaw on the first play of the second quarter, then a wonderfully tipped pass by Darrelle Revis resulted in a Devin McCourty interception in Patriots territory.
New England's defense did its job, particularly on third downs.
Then tight end Dwayne Allen – a major part of Indy's offense of late – suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady wasn't at his best in the first half. He threw two interceptions that were very rookie-like mistakes. The first was a deep throw into triple coverage, the other a panic throw as he faced a pass rush.
That second INT gave Andrew Luck and the Indy offense life in the closing minutes of the first half. Luck capitalized with a touchdown pass to shorten the Patriots' lead to 14-10.
But running back Jonas Gray more than made up for Brady's early ineffectiveness. The first-year back had more rushing yards by the half (100) than Brady did passing yards (84) – not to mention a pair of touchdowns that gave New England its slim lead.
At the start of the third quarter, a busted coverage by Indy resulted in a big catch-and-run by Shane Vereen. Gray continued to pound the ball after that, and a play-action fake to him in a goal-to-go setting resulted in Brady's touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright.
Gary wasn't finished, however. With 3:30 to go in the third, Gray got his third touchdown, another two-yard effort. That matched Corey Dillon's franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in a regular season game. Gray went on to set a new record with his fourth TD in the fourth quarter.
The New England Patriots take on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, November 16, 2014.
The Colts wouldn't back down, though. Their answer was tight end Colby Fleener, who continually found openings in the Patriots secondary to the tune of seven catches for 144 yards. Yet, the Patriots defense helped out the offense by doing what it has done best all season: create turnovers and get key stops on third down.
"We weren't trying to send a statement," defensive tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork insisted. "We're just trying to play Patriot football."
"We just have to keep going," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty maintained. "The key for us is to make sure we put in the work each week in practice and understand what we want to do game plan-wise against these great offenses. Guys just have to stay hungry."
The Patriots didn't play a great game overall. Sounds funny, I know, when a team puts up 42 points on the road against a good opponent. The defense may have played slightly better than the offense, but the night belonged to Gray.
And that's the sign of a good football team: when it doesn't play its best, but still finds a way not only to win, but to win in a way that focuses on someone other than the expected stars.
New England, with Denver's loss at St. Louis Sunday, now effectively sits atop the AFC with a two-game advantage (adding in the tie-breaker of the Broncos). And it is starting to show something special as the shadows grow longer and the playoff picture – still very much a foggy shade of gray – begins to come more clearly into focus.
And it's setting up a dandy of a match in Green Bay on Thanksgiving weekend, after the Packers posted more than 50 points earlier in the day in a home win against Philadelphia. That game with New England at the end of November could be a preview of things to come in early February in Arizona.