Boston TD Party
Tonight was not unlike watching a movie where the villain wins. And what a villain this was. The New England Patriots. Scoundrels, cheaters, soulless wearers of Uggs and hoodies. Okay, they’re not that bad, but there’s no denying that around the NFL, a loss to the Patriots stings a little extra.
Several of the things we all expected happened tonight. The Patriots tried to take T.Y. Hilton away. Hilton moved all over the offensive formations to counter it, also as expected, and still ended up with 4 catches for 106 yards on 6 targets and a 25.8 yard average while Coby Fleener exploited the middle of the field when Hilton was double teamed and reeled in 6 receptions for 74 yards.
Tom Brady even came through by being less than stellar, as some people had predicted: 13/25 for 198 yards, 2 sacks, and a 78.4 QB rating.
Some problems are too much to overcome, however, and several of those happened tonight as well. After looking as though they had found their stride late in the season, the offensive line collapsed. Andrew Luck was under nearly constant pressure, taking 3 sacks and 10 hits, and despite throwing for 331 yards, had 4 interceptions (one came after the game was out of reach).
The Colts defense struggled, and despite some bright moments, still gave up 43 points and a heap of big plays. They kept Brady in check for the most part, and slowed running backs Stevan Ridley (3.7 ypc, though he scored 2 touchdowns) and Shane Vereen (3.4 ypc), but they could not contain LaGarrette Blount (24 carries, 166 yards, 6.9 ypc, 4 touchdowns – 4 ypc outside of his one back-breaking 73-yard run).
There were the bad calls, of course. No one could miss those, most notably the P.I. no-call on a play in which Griff Whalen was thrown to the ground. A second possible interference no-call happened on the same drive, and a defender who hit Luck long after he threw the ball earlier in the game was never penalized.
The list goes on and on, but no matter how badly the referees do – and it’s going to happen at some point every week in the NFL – the blame cannot rest squarely on the officials in a three-touchdown loss with four turnovers.
As for the game itself, we’ll keep it short. The Colts came out with same shotgun-oriented, no huddle offense they had been using during their 4-game win streak, but on the third offensive play of the game, Luck stared down LaVon Brazill on 3rd and 2, and Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard picked off the errant pass.
Dennard returned the interception to the Colts’ 2-yard line, and Blount punched it in on the next play to take a 7-point lead barely two minutes into the game.
Indianapolis came back with a three and out, and New England quickly made them pay with a 74-yard drive and a 2-yard touchdown run by Blount.
The Colts vaulted right back into the game with a quick-hitting 80-yard drive capped off with a 38-yard bomb to Brazill down the right sideline to make it a manageable 14-7.
To follow that up, Erik Walden sacked Brady on third down (what in the world was that sack dance?), giving Indianapolis the ball, and what seemed to be all the momentum, at their own 27. The offense failed to capitalize, however, and the Patriots made them pay with another touchdown run from Blount and a 21-7 second quarter lead.
Luck and the offense drove to the New England 18 but had to settle for a field goal and a 21-10 deficit. After Darius Butler and Ricky Jean Francois teamed up to stop Blount for no gain on 3rd and 2, the Patriots sent in their punt team, but the snap sailed over punter Ryan Allen’s head. Allen recovered it near his own end zone but was quickly plastered by three Colts players, jarring the ball loose for a safety.
Down 21-12, the momentum seemed to have swung the Colts’ way again as Luck marched the offense back into Patriots territory. With a 1st and 10 at the 39, Luck, still running that wonderful no huddle, threw to fullback Stanley Havili, who bobbled the pass before it landed in the hands of Don’t’a Hightower for another pick.
Indy forced another three and out on defense, and the offense quickly moved downfield, thanks largely to a 40-yard Luck-to-Hilton connection. Unable to punch it in with Richardson or hit Fleener with a jump ball from the 3-yard line, they settled for another field goal. 21-15. Still a close game.
Ridley helped make it 29-15 on the next drive with a 3-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion. Still not out of the game, Luck fired back. After a loss of one by Richardson, Luck hit T.Y. Hilton for 46 yards on the left side, then fired down the middle to Brazill for a 35-yard score. 3 plays, 80-yards in 1:17. 29-22.
Things were looking up for the Colts as a series of defensive stops by each team carried them into the fourth quarter. Then, amidst the punt exchange, the Patriots handed the ball off to Blount for a quick run around the right tackle that turned into a 73-yard score.
Things fell apart from there. After being so close. After being within striking distance for so long. Two plays after the Patriots made it a two score game again, Luck threw another interception as he tried to avoid the rush and hit Fleener over the middle.
After a 20-yard return, the Patriots took over at the Indianapolis 18-yard line, and Ridley eventually scored his second rushing touchdown from 3 yards out. 43-22.
Indianapolis got the ball back with just over eleven minutes left, plenty of time for a miracle, but incomplete passes (and questionable no-calls) on 2nd and 1, then 3rd and 1 set up 4th down.
Now, you’re down three scores with around 10:30 left in a playoff game. One yard to go. It’s do or die. Do you tell your team to get out there and try to win, or do you try to lessen the margin of defeat? The Colts punted. Game over. It may have been over anyway, of course, but we’ll never know now.
Robert Mathis tacked on a sack, and Luck tacked on another interception, but at that point, they all knew it was almost time for an offseason of rest, reflection, and preparation.
It’s been an incredible season. 12-6. I watched this team play 18 games that mattered, and 12 times, they ended with a victory. Some of them were hideous, some of them were beautiful and exciting, and some of them left us all wondering how on this Earth they were able to pull off the win.
Such is football. An offseason of glaring needs and limited draft picks looms, but there’s a good foundation. A quarterback on the cusp of greatness, a wide receiver who when utilized properly is apparently superhuman, and bright spots here and there throughout the roster.
For now, I’m glad to have watched this team win twelve times. Thanks to everyone who’s come along for the ride. When you wake in the morning, I recommend avoiding ESPN, especially First Take, and just be glad you’re not a Raiders or Bills fan. Or Jaguars.
A few (very) quick notes:
– I have been awake for a very long time. I apologize in advance if I’ve missed any weird typos.
– They are who we thought they were…and we let ‘em off the hook.
– Pep Hamilton stopped trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole, and it worked well. Turnovers increased with the vertical attack, but they were running plays, formations, and whole style, that they never intended to run.
– So many times, people have wondered why a team gave up on the run against Indy. The Patriots must have been wondering the same thing.
– The season is over, which means we can stop talking about Trent Richardson for a little while.
– New England had three fumbles but didn’t lose any of them. Antoine Bethea and Darius Butler each dropped interceptions. Ah, what might have been.