The Patriots win was a full team effort, with the defense returning two interceptions for touchdowns, Julian Edelman returning a punt for a touchdown, and Tom Brady throwing for 331 yards and three scores as the Patriots embarrassed Andrew Luck and the Colts. Luck threw for 334 yards and two scores, but had three interceptions and a lost fumble as the Patriots brought pressure early and often on the rookie phenom.
The Colts started the scoring with an efficient seven play drive led by Luck and running back Vick Ballard. Before the fans could get settled into their seats at Gillette Stadium, Delone Carter scored from one yard out to put the Colts up 7-0. The drive was aided by a dreadful play by Kyle Arrington, who prevented a touchdown only by committing pass interference at the Patriots’ 6 yard line. The Patriots fired right back, needing eight plays for Brady to connect with Rob Gronkowski for a four yard touchdown to tie the game up. The touchdown reception was Gronk’s 36th career touchdown, tying him with John Jefferson for third most in a tight end’s first three seasons. The pass also extended Tom Brady’s streak for games with at least one touchdown pass to 42, the third longest streak in NFL history. Gronk caught three passes on that drive for a total of 56 yards.
The Colts next possession was just as effective as their first, with Ballard ripping off key runs and LaVon Brazill making an artful catch and run that went for 25 yards. On the tenth play of the drive Luck connected with TY Hilton for a 14 yard touchdown and a 14-7 Colts’ lead. The Patriots then marched right back down the field, reaching the Colts’ 18 before two incomplete passes forced a Patriots’ field goal attempt from 36 yards, which Stephen Gostkowski missed to the right. The Colts now had the opportunity to build a lead, but the Patriots’ defense forced a three and out. Julian Edelman then took the punt return 68 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14. Then, on the second play of the following Colts’ possession, Luck’s pass to Reggie Wayne was intercepted by Aqib Talib in his first game as a Patriot. Talib returned the pick 59 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 Patriots’ lead.
Luck seemed distraught following the pick six, but then calmly drove the Colts’ once again through the Patriots’ defense. Luck connected with Wayne twice and then to Brazill again for another 21 yards as the Colts reached the Patriots’ 29 before three straight missed passes forced the Colts to settle for a 47 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, cutting the lead to 21-17. Not surprisingly, the Patriots immediately returned the favor, relying on Shane Vereen’s running and passes to Wes Welker and Gronk to move to the Colts’ 13, with Ghost connecting on a 31 yard field goal to put the margin back to 7. Vinatieri would then miss on a 58 yard attempt to close the first half.
The second half saw the game get away from the Colts in a hurry. On the Patriots’ possession to open the half, Brady connected with Julian Edelman on a long third down play to spark the drive. Brady then connected with Welker twice and Gronk once, and Ridley had an 11 yard run to get the Patriots into striking distance before Brady connected with Edelman on a two yard touchdown pass, increasing the lead to 31-17. The teams then exchanged punts over the next two drives. On the second Colts’ drive of the half, Rob Ninkovich sacked Luck, stripping Luck of the ball and recovering the fumble himself. This set up the Patriots at the Colts’ 24 yard line. Brady then connected with Gronk on the next play for a 24 yard touchdown, and the rout was on.
On the next drive, the Colts drove to the Patriots’ 23 before Luck was picked off by rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who outraced Luck on his way to an 87 yard touchdown, putting the Patriots up 45-17. The Patriots would add touchdown runs for Ridley and Vereen while Luck connected with TY Hilton on a 43 yard touchdown pass to close the day’s scoring.
The big news after the game was word that Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm on an extra point play in the fourth quarter. Gronk had surgery earlier today. Initial fears were that Gronk might be out for 4-8 weeks, but my guess is that we will see Gronk in 3-4 weeks. However long he is out, the Patriots will once again need to alter their offensive attack to make up for a missing player. Chances are high that this will force the return of Aaron Hernandez, who was once again held out with a high ankle sprain.
When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots were able to run the ball at times against the Colts, but on the whole the running effort was underwhelming. In part this was by design, as the Patriots were heavily reliant on the passing game, but in part this was also due to the efforts of Cory Redding, who clogged running lanes and slowed down the Patriots’ runners. Edelman was the leading back on the day with one end around for 47 yards, while Vereen added 40 yards on 11 carries and Ridley posted only 28 yards on 13 carries. Advantage: Colts
When the Patriots passed:
Brady was kept clean most of the day and the Colts’ failed to tally a sack on the day, highlighting a solid effort by a patchwork offensive line who negated the Colts’ pass rush. Brady threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns, connecting with Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker seven times each, and hitting Julian Edelman five times as Edelman became a key part of the offense. The Colts had no answers for Gronk, and also had trouble with Brandon Lloyd, who tallied four catches on the day. Advantage: Patriots
When the Colts ran:
Vick Ballard had a very effective day, pounding out 72 yards on 16 carries as the Colts ran for 119 yards on the day. Had this been a close game the Colts’ rushing attack might well have been the difference, as the Patriots struggled to contain both Ballard and Carter. Advantage: Colts
Luck’s 334 yards and two touchdowns give him a respectable stat sheet, but three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, showed that the Patriots’ decision to bring pressure to bear on the rookie quarterback was the right decision. Luck looked rattled after the first quarter and made some poor decisions throwing the ball. The Patriots registered only one sack (which resulted in a lost fumble by Luck) but were routinely in his face. Pressure by Vince Wilfork forced Luck to alter a throw to Wayne in the second quarter, which resulted in the Talib pick six. For his part, Talib had a decent first game, but also struggled at times, and seemed to be playing his way back into football shape after serving his four game, five week suspension. Kyle Arrington had a poor day in the secondary and seems to be struggling to stay in the line-up. For once however, the advantage in this part of the game goes to the Pats. Advantage: Patriots
Julian Edelman returned one punt 68 yards for a touchdown and then nearly broke another for a score, returning that punt 49 yards to set up a short field for a fourth quarter scoring drive. The Colts routinely started with poor field position. Advantage: Patriots
The Patriots won the turnover battle 4-0. Between special teams play and turnovers, a competitive shootout ended after the first quarter. Advantage: Patriots
Key Moment: Two, actually, within 57 seconds of each other in the second quarter. First, Julian Edelman returned a punt for a touchdown, and then two plays later Aqib Talib returned an interception for a score, turning a 14-7 deficit into a 21-14 lead and giving the Patriots control of the game.
Game Ball: Julian Edelman. 5 receptions for 58 yards and a score. One rush for 47 yards to set up a score. Two punt returns for 117 yards and a score. If the Colts had no answers for Gronk, they had even fewer answers for Edelman.