Game Plan, Mistakes Doom Patriots
Colts Still Undefeated, Maintain No. 1 Seed
Five turnovers, eight penalties (most of them costly), a pair of awful kickoff coverages, an injury to one of The Big Three, and an overall faulty game plan conspired against New England as the Patriots lost 27-20 to the Indianapolis Colts, the final undefeated team in the NFL.
Let me just start here: Indianapolis needed to play another near-perfect game, Peyton Manning had to be at his best ever, Marvin Harrison had to make an unbelievable catch (which, giving some of the other decisions made by the officials, probably would have been ruled incomplete if made by a Patriots receiver), and New England had to play one of their worst games -- and Indy still won by only 7 points.
This was not so much a game that Indianapolis won as much as a game New England lost.
And many of you will hardly believe this, but I am laying this loss at the feet of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The defense did its job. Above, Asante Samuel breaks up
a sure touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne.
Yes, the game plan was flawed, and the only person who can be held responsible is Belichick. Brady can shoulder some of it (on his "good" shoulder) if he was "audiblized" some of those poorly executed pass plays, instead of going with the coaches. He once said that he had diverged from the coaches' game plan one other time, it was disastrous, and he'd never do it again.
My only conclusion is the coaches made some very unnecessary adjustments in the second half.
Not that the first half was great. It was adequate, but it was far from flawless.
It was flawless for about nine plays, but then instantly and terribly flawed. The 10th play of the drive is when Brady hucked up a free ball into triple coverage, effectively changing the game.
To that point, New England had run 6 times for 37 yards, and a couple short passes had taken more than 5 minutes off the clock and give the Patriots a 1st-and-10 on the Colts 34 yard line. But then the interception in the end zone.
Instead of New England burning another couple minutes, wearing down Indy's D in the first quarter, possibly taking a 7-0 lead, and keeping Peyton Manning off the field (universally accepted as a key to the game), Manning and the Colts had the ball on their own 32 (though it looked to me like Antoine Bethea was `down by contact' in the end zone). They marched the 68 yards in nine plays, doing to New England what the Patriots had done to them.
Instead of being tied at 7 in the worst case, or having the upper hand in the best, the Patriots were set to playing catch up, which they did for the rest of the game.
In the process, they lost Rodney Harrison to an "arm injury," and he did not return for the rest of the game. Early speculation is that they may not have him for much longer.
The news wasn't all bad. Here, Rosevelt Colvin nails Peyton Manning.
The defense kept New England in it, and the offense did an admirable job, claiming real estate, killing the clock, and keeping pace with Manning, who was mostly on the sideline. At the end of the first half, the Colts led 17-14 -- certainly within striking distance. But while the Patriots held a decisive advantage in time of possession (18:04 - 11:56), Indy led in turnovers and big, big breaks.
The "mistakes" killed New England, but the overall game plan appeared solid. "More of the same" appeared to be the order of the day.
But it wasn't.
The offensive plan inexplicably took a bizarre turn, and while the defense held up its end, New England simply didn't score enough point. The change in plan led to more mistakes and gave Indy a far smoother path to victory.
Adam Vinatieri returned to predominantly boos and some jeering from former teammates. The reception may have shaken the "wily" veteran. Vinatieri missed field goals of 37 yards and 49 yards, both wide right, and made chip shots of 23 and 31.
His replacement in blue and silver, rookie Stephen Gostkowski, pushed a 36-yard attempt badly wide to the right, but connected on kicks of 26 and 49 yards.
Former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri tries to shake up
his replacement, rookie Stephen Gostkowski.
Neither kicker notched a touchback. Vinatieri averaged 65 yards on six kickoffs with a long of 68 yards. Gostkowski averaged 64 yards on five kicks with a pair of 69-yarders but also kicks of 57 and 58. There were also two huge returns on two of the three long kicks that were very detrimental to New England's cause.
Frozen Tundra-ish No More
Gillette Stadium is losing its mystique. After winning about a million straight games at home until San Diego broke the streak last year, New England went 5-3 in Gillette last year and are 2-2 there so far this season.
Not like it wasn't cold Sunday night. The temperature at game time was 31 degrees. Certainly not the worst of conditions, but chilly enough that it used to matter. Teams soon will no longer fear coming to Foxboro if it isn't snowing.
Hey, this global warming thing is getting serious!
And Now, What You Came For
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the phantom illegal use of the hands to the face penalty on Mike Vrabel, or the utterly incomprehensible taunting call against Troy Brown, or the (late hit / unnecessary roughness) called on Rosevelt Colvin. I dare say no one can explain those, and I'm pretty sure New England won't even get the benefit of one of those "Sorry. We screwed up!" messages from the league that so many other teams seem to receive when they have one bad call in a game.
And that's to say nothing of the pass interference and illegal contact penalties that were called for one team and not the other, or that on any given Indianapolis passing play, you saw blockers with handfuls of blue jerseys but no yellow flags.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick can't
seem to get through to line judge Tom Stephan.
These game officials appear to be blind and deaf.
And while Marvin Harrizon made a spectacular catch in the end zone, there's no possible way to rationalize that Harrison had possession of the ball while he was changing hands and shuffling feet more than Dillon had lost possession on the supposed fumble. On that replay, Dillon's knee was buried in the turf, while the ball was half in the crook of his arm while Raheem Brock was pulling it out.
It's bad enough that one team (and as far as I know, only one in the league) has someone on the NFL competition committee and someone else on the coaches subcomittee. Bad enough they force through the rules that benefit their team. Even worse that they can affect the calls on the field during play.
But, hey, there's always January.
The Play of the Game was ...
This poll is closed
Brady's interception on the game's opening drive.
Marvin Harrison's touchdown catch.
Rodney Harrison's injury.
Corey Dillon's fumble.
Brady's interception on the Patriots final drive (tipped by Faulk).
Terrence Wilkins's kickoff returns.
Troy Brown's taunting penalty.