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How the Little Things Added Up

Questions Unanswered
Chronological Look Back at Colts Game

All I've had time for this week was a look at the Patriots mistakes and calls by the officials. Here's more about all that happened in the 2006 AFC Championship game in which the New England Patriots lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 38-34.

The Patriots got off to a shaky but promising start, moving the ball and converting a third down before Tom Brady threw a screen pass a little behind Kevin Faulk. The ball was catchable, and it appeared Faulk would have room to run with blockers, and if anything showed the Patriots should have some success mixing in the play.

The defense got off to an equally good start, forcing a three-and-out by Indy, but Richard Seymour appeared to twist an ankle on the Colts first play from scrimmage -- just the first incident in what turned out to be a long day for the defense.

With the Colts defending the run, Brady hit Reche Caldwell for an 18-yard gain that gave Indy pause in loading up the box. With the dogs call off, the Patriots went almost solely to the run, and on 4th-and-1, Corey Dillon busted through a hole on the right side for a 35-yard gain.

Laurence Maroney, after his game-long run of 9 on 1st-and10 from the Colts 13, fumbled the handoff (officially assigned to Brady on the stat sheet), and in a bizarre sequence, Logan Mankins covered the ball in the Indy end zone for a touchdown. And that was just a foreshadow of more bizarre plays involving linemen later in the game.

Indianapolis got the ball moving on their second possession. Peyton Manning missed on a couple long balls well-defended by Ellis Hobbs. Eric Alexander had a couple good tackles on the drive. He finished the game leading the team in tackles but was held up as an example of the Patriots lack of defensive depth. Seymour returned on the drive, but it was unclear whether he was still hurt.

Despite an all-too-rare holding call on Indianapolis running plays, the Colts positioned themselves for a 42-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. However, if the Patriots defense could contain the Colts and limit them to field goals as Baltimore had done, New England certainly had a shot.

New England's second drive was textbook methodical dismantling of an overmatched defense. A run, a pass, a couple runs, a conversion of 4th-and-6. This time, it was the other "old man" on the Patriots offense, Troy Brown, ripping a long gain (27 yards). On the next play, Dillon rumbled for a 7-yard touchdown.

Second Quarter

Less than 5 minutes into the second quarter, New England was looking to put the game away early, and typically impatient Manning obliged, ignoring the coverage of the league's leader in interceptions. He looked for security blanket Marvin Harrison on the sideline, but Asante Samuel, reminiscent of Ty Law, saw the whole play develop, intercepted the pass and ran untouched into the end zone.

And with that, the Patriots led 21-3.

Things got no better for Indy. They went three-and-out again, this time the situation exacerbated by Manning, clearly frazzled after being sacked by Rosevelt Colvin, allowing to get caught for delay of game on third down. Another go-for-it-all deep pass to the security blanket on the ensuing third down was again covered well by Hobbs, and Colvin drilled Manning again.

Midway through the second quarter, New England had Indianapolis on the ropes. Brown had returned Hunter Smith's punt to the Colts 48, and the Patriots were in prime position to make it 28-3. Brady hit Brown and Ben Watson to advance to the Colts 32. Maroney got caught short on the first play of the drive, and then again on 2nd-and-5, leaving New England with 3rd-and-6 on Indy's 28.

Brady converted, connecting with Watson for a 9-yard gain inside the Colt 20, but a mysterious offensive pass interference call on Brown negated the play. A gain of 4, which would have made it 4th-and 12 on the 34 was also negated by an illegal motion penalty. Now 3rd-and-21, Indy sent everyone on a pass rush, and they sacked Brady for another loss of 6. That was 21 yards lost on penalties and the sack leaving the ball nearly at midfield instead of 1st-and-10 inside the 20.

The Patriots, instead of getting at least 3 (and possibly 7) to make it 24-3, had to punt.

And momentum turned.

With just 3:06 left in the half, Manning took the Colts from their own 12 to the New England 8 in 15 plays that took just 2:59. All of the ground essentially was gained with short passes that included an 18-yard pass-and-catch on 3rd-and-12 and an 11-yard pass-and-catch on 3rd-and-11. On the Colts two running plays on the drive, Joseph Addai was stopped at the line of scrimmage, and Dominic Rhodes lost 2 yards.

With 11 seconds left in the half, Vinatieri booted a chip shot to make it a two-score game at 21-6.

Third Quarter

The Patriots dominated the first half, gaining 85 yards on the ground and 91 in the air, forcing a turnover and committing just two penalties -- but two very costly, if somewhat suspect, penalties. Brady, who started the game 0-for-3 passing, went 8-for-9 the rest of the half. The one disappointment -- at least the parts controllable by the players -- was the ineffectiveness of Maroney, who had just 16 yards (including that 9-yard first run) on 6 carries.

Meanwhile, excepting the Colts final drive, Indy was going nowhere fast. They had just 34 yards on the ground (minus 2 more on the final drive) and Manning who was 7 of 12 for 82 yards against the Patriots prevent defense in the half's final 3 minutes, was just 6 of 12 for 42 yards and an interception in the previous 27 minutes.

The bad news is the defense was going to be on the field again to start the second half. While the half-ending drive consumed just 2:59 of game time, the Colts ran 15 plays, 12 of those defense-fatiguing passes. And with several players suffering the effects of flu and a pair of exhausting travel days, the Patriots D's backs were against the wall.

The Colts dedicated themselves to running the ball to open the third quarter. Leaving Addai on the sideline, Indy rode Rhodes on 5 of their first 7 plays, mixing in a pair of moderate passing gains to Harrison. Indy chewed up turf in small chunks and it was clear the New England defense was worn out.

On 3rd-and-goal from the Patriots 1, Manning tried to sneak across the goal line. The play was over for an eternity before the officials signaled touchdown. One official had marked Manning short. Had this and other plays been called differently, the score would have been 28-9, not 21-13.

With an opportunity to keep the pressure turned up high, the offense failed. Brady connected with Heath Evans on 3rd-and-2, but Evans was deprived for forward progress and thus unable to advance beyond the line of scrimmage. The Patriots had to punt, putting the tiring defense back on the field.

The Colts opened the drive with a 25-yard pass to Dallas Clark but may have stalled at the New England 27 when Seymour crossed the line and got back, yet nonetheless was called for a neutral zone infraction (that was called twice against the Patriots), and without measuring Bill Carollo awarded Indy a first down.

Two plays later came the now infamous call-was-wrong-but-no-it-wasn't pass interference penalty on Hobbs that put the Colts on the New England 1 for an easy score. Indy pulled a play from the Patriots vault, Manning tossing the TD to a linebacker, former Patriot Joe Klecko. The 2-point conversion (Manning to Harrison) tied the game at 21.

New England struck back quickly. Maybe too quickly. Hobbs returned Vinatieri's kickoff 80 yards to the Colts 21. After Maroney failed again to gain a yard, Brady hit Jabar Gaffney for 17 yards. Dillon was denied forward progress, and then Caldwell dropped a gimme, but Gaffney made a spectacular catch in the back of the end zone on which the officials ruled he would have come down in bounds but was pushed.

Tony Dungy challenged the call -- apparently questioning whether Gaffney had control of the ball, but it was correctly upheld. Regardless, Dungy argued, but he was not penalized and the Colts got every call for the rest of the game.

Fourth Quarter

That score gave New England an uncomfortable 28-21 lead entering the fourth quarter, and Indianapolis wasted no time re-knotting the game.

Patriots rookie placekicker Stephen Gostkowski lofted the kickoff short, only to the Colts 21, and Indy started from their 33. Three straight plays went to Rhodes -- two passes and a run -- to end the third with Indianapolis on the New England 35. Addai picked up 3 before Manning went back to Clark for 23 and a 1st-and-goal from the Patriots 9. Another neutral zone infraction on Jarvis Green put the Colts on the doorstep.

Alexander forced Rhodes to fumble at the 1 and Colts center Jeff Saturday cradled it short of the goal line. He was being touched by multiple Patriots players, but Saturday on his side scooted across and the officials gave him the touchdown.

Another good Hobbs return (30 yards from 3 deep in the end zone) put New England in respectable field position, but Maroney dancing aimlessly in the backfield lost 2 yards again on a 2nd-and-6 leaving the Patriots (again) in 3rd-and-long. Brady went to Maroney on a screen, and after gaining 6 (which may have been a first down but for the previous loss), Maroney continued tapping and failed to make the line to gain. And the Patriots had to punt yet again with the defense allowed so little precious time to rest.

Somehow, the defense responded. Manning missed Wayne, who tripped over his own feet again. The pass was way long and Hobbs was unable to reach it. Then Mike Vrabel sacked Manning for a loss of 7, and Manning missed Wayne on a short pass. Three and out.

Brown returned the punt 15 yards, and New England's field position improved when Dexter Reid ripped off a Patriot helmet and ran with it. Brady to Caldwell for 16, to Gaffney for 14, and the Patriots were on the Colts 13. An illegal shift pushed them back to the 18.

On 1st-and-15, Caldwell was split wide right, completely uncovered. He ran upfield for about half the yardage and had nothing but grass in front of him. For whatever reason, Caldwell didn't streak down the sideline, and Brady didn't lead him with a floater to the corner. Caldwell turned and stopped inside the 10 and Brady feather-touched a pass right in the numbers. Caldwell tried to catch the ball with his arms and chest instead of his hands. It slipped through his arms and rolled down his body.

Unfazed, Brady reset and hit Evans for an 8-yard gain, then, with complete faith in the receiver who was so consistent all year but so fish-out-of-water in this game, Brady went back to Caldwell. They went for 6 points, and probably would have had it, but Caldwell was pushed and held all the way down the field and tackled in the end zone. There was no call, so New England was forced to settle for a field goal.

In an effort to strike quickly against an obviously gassed defense, Manning went deep to Clark who reeled in a 52-yard catch and run. But the Colts went virtually nowhere on the next three plays and Vinatieri answered Gostkowski's field goal with another.

Hobbs did it again. He returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to put New England near midfield. Brady connected with Daniel Graham for 25, and the Patriots were inside the 30. Brady unsuccessfully tried to hook up deep with Gaffney, and then Graham was hit early coming across the middle and couldn't make the catch. A 4-yard run by Evans set up Gostkowski to make it 34-31.

Somehow, as they had done all year, the defense stopped the opposing offense cold -- hopefully for the last time they needed to. But it would not turn out that way. Brown returned the punt to the Patriots 40, and New England was in position to put the game away for good.

But they were called for 12-men in the huddle, and it set them back 5 yards. A 7-yard connection to Caldwell and 4 to Watson would have been a first down, but for the penalty. Bob Sanders broke up Brady's pass to Brown, which, had it been converted, would have effectively ended the game. But it gave the Colts one last chance.

Starting at their 20 following a touchback, the Colts cranked down the field: Manning to Wayne for 11, to Bryan Fletcher for 32, to 14 to Wayne. James Sanders and Chad Scott hit Wayne and the ball popped straight up in the air. Miraculously, it dropped right back to Wayne, and the officials tacked on a "technically, it's a penalty" roughing the passer against Tully Banta-Cain, putting Indy at the New England 11.

The Colts ran Addai three straight times, and he went the last three yards impossibly untouched through a tremendous hole right up the middle for the touchdown. Indy took a lead for the first time in the game.

Now it was New England who needed a last gasp, but after passing midfield, Brady, looking for Watson, hit Marlon Jackson instead.

Other Factors and Considerations

Life is full of "What if...?" As my Drill Instructor Sgt. Rodriguez used to say, "What if? What if? What if grasshoppers had machine guns? Then birds wouldn't @#%& with them."

Indeed. These may be moot points and rhetorical questions, but I'll pose them anyway.

Would the Patriots defense have fared better and lasted longer had Bobby "Hitman" Wade not taken out Rodney Harrison? Or had Junior Seau not broken his arm?

Or had they not contracted flu-like symptoms or had to travel one-and-a-half times across the country in two weeks? Or did not have to play in a closed, steamy dome?

For that matter, what if the Colts had to play in the freezing cold in Foxboro -- had the Patriots won the midseason matchup or had not lost at home to Denver or the Jets, or had the Colts lost one of their four 1- to 3-point wins.

And what happened to Chad Jackson? Say what you will about the loss of David Givens and Deion Branch, but Gaffney and Caldwell improved all season and played admirably in the playoffs, until Caldwell's conference title gaffes. But it was Jackson that was supposed to evolve into the impact player. He had just 13 catches in 12 regular season games. Brady threw two deep incompletions in his direction in the Wild Card, sat out the divisional playoff, and was non-existent against the Colts.

The Patriots ran the ball just 24 times all game, just 5 times in the second half. Was the offenses lack of production partly due to a tired Tom Brady, who threw 51 times against San Diego?

New England had just two drives in the third quarter: 4 plays (including a punt) and 5 plays (including Gaffney's incredible touchdown after Hobbs's 80-yard kickoff return). Nine plays in the third quarter, less than 4 minutes of game time.

The fourth quarter: three-and-out, 6 plays (field goal), 5 plays (field goal), 5 plays (punt), 4 plays (final interception).