Tom Brady's NFL revenge tour continued in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night, leaving Indianapolis fans feeling a little deflated.
The veteran quarterback threw for 312 yards plus three touchdowns, carrying New England (5-0) to a 34-27 victory over Indianapolis (3-3).
It was the seventh straight victory for the Patriots over their conference rivals, but it did not come easy, at least in the first half. Andrew Luck (312 passing yards, three touchdowns) returned from a two-game absence to captain the Colts to a 21-20 lead at intermission behind a pair of touchdown drives and a pick-six by Mike Adams.
New England’s defense tightened up considerably after halftime however, keeping the Colts scoreless on six consecutive possessions in the second half. Chandler Jones (2.5 sacks) brought the pressure from the defensive line, while Luck struggled to connect with receivers.
The lockdown defense proved to be the difference, after Brady helped New England regain the lead with a 25-yard touchdown strike to Rob Gronkowski on the opening drive of the second half. Later, the Patriots padded their lead thanks to a botched trick play by the Colts’ punting unit in their own territory. New England took advantage of the field position at the Colts 35-yard-line to go up double digits following LaGarrette Blount’s second touchdown of the day.
Three things we learned:
1. LeGarrette Blount still owns the Colts
The veteran running back had taken a backseat to new addition Dion Lewis during the early stages of the season in the Patriots backfield, but that changed Sunday night. The 28-year-old was the featured back against the Colts and he continued to wreak havoc against the conference rival in a Patriot uniform. Blount ran for a season-high 93 yards and a touchdown, averaging over 5.8 yards per carry on his 16 attempts. He also added his first career touchdown reception in the third quarter, giving him 104 all-purpose yards on the evening on just 17 touches. Dating back to last season, Blount has gained 407 yards on the ground in three games against Indianapolis, while scoring a combined nine touchdowns in those contests.
2. The Pats’ offensive line held up in spite of depth issues
After losing starting left tackle Nate Solder (torn bicep) for the season this past week, the Patriots’ offensive line was already shorthanded. That issue worsened also immediately Sunday night when Solder’s replacement, Marcus Cannon, left the game in the first quarter with a toe injury. In order to effectively protect Brady’s blindside, Belichick shifted Sebastian Vollmer to left tackle and turned to recent signee Cameron Fleming at right tackle for the remainder of the matchup. The patchwork offensive line held up admirably for the final three quarters. The group created useful holes for Blount in the running game and gave Brady adequate time to find his weapons on most of his dropbacks. Reinforcements may be on the way soon for the unit once center Bryan Stork returns from short-term injured reserve, but in the meantime Vollmer and Fleming deserve credit for adjusting well on the fly.
3. Puzzling Pagano
The Colts came out aggressive Sunday night, nearly executing an onside kick to perfection after scoring a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Chuck Pagano’s playcalling got a little bit too tricky in the closing stages of the third quarter however. Faced with 4th and 3 on his own 37, Pagano tried to catch the Patriots off-guard by sending most of his punting unit towards the right side of the field, leaving just a center and quarterback on the ball. New England was not flustered by the unorthodox formation, covering both sides of it adequately prior to the snap. For most teams, the inability to catch the Pats’ special teams unit napping would have led to the offense simply calling an audible, timeout, or just taking a delay of game penalty.
Somehow, Pagano did not coach his players well enough to do any of these things. The ball was snapped to an unprotected Colt Anderson, resulting in arguably the worst “trick” play in NFL history. The easy sack by New England forced the Colts to turn the ball over on downs at their own 35-yard line. Pagano took the blame for the mishap after the game, but the lack of awareness shown by the head coach and his players during the sequence will only put an underperforming Colts squad further under the microscope.