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Patriots 31 Colts 24: Rob Gronkowski Helps New England Move to 9-3 Despite Team's Poor 4th Quarter

Final - 12.4.2011 1 2 3 4 Total
Indianapolis Colts 0 3 0 21 24
New England Patriots 3 14 14 0 31

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Generally, when a team is outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter, they're going to lose that game. For the New England Patriots this afternoon, the team held on to beat the Indianapolis Colts despite the terrible fourth quarter margin.

Okay, so this game wasn't all that bad from a New England perspective. The team didn't get off to a hot start, having their first couple of drives stall and allowing Indianapolis to go down the field for a 19 play, 68 yard drive that chewed up more than ten minutes of the clock. Fortunately, despite the Colts having a first and goal from the Patriots' one yard line, the New England red zone defense stepped up and held the Colts to just three points.

From that point on, Tom Brady and New England's offense was nearly unstoppable. Brady converted three long third downs on a drive that put the Patriots up 10-3. The New England defense then held the Colts to a three and out and the Patriots offense once again marched down the field in the two minute offense to put the team up 17-3 to end the second half. On the first drive of the third quarter, the Patriots passing attack continued their hot streak with the team marching 77 yards on seven plays. The drive was capped off with a 21 yard Brady to Gronkowski throw. For Gronkowski, it marked his 13th touchdown of the year, which ties an NFL record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in one season. While Gronkowski and the Patriots likely won't boast about the mark, it really highlights Gronkowski's development into one of the league's most complete tight ends (if not the most complete).

On the day, Brady went 29/38 for 293 yards and two touchdowns (would have been three had a Rob Gronkowski pass not later been ruled a lateral). Brady didn't test Indianapolis down the field much, but he was able to carve up Indy's Tampa 2 zone. Wes Welker came up with 11 catches for 110 yards for New England, while tight end Rob Gronkowski had 5 receptions for 64 yards and two scores. Had it not been for the stagnant fourth quarter (two three and outs), the passing attack would have had one it's most complete games of the year.

Had this game ended after three quarters, New England would have walked away with a 31-3 victory and I would mostly have positive things about the Patriots' performance. Alas, football games aren't played for 45 minutes. They're played for 60 minutes. And for some reason, the Patriots can't seem to understand that.

My thoughts on the Patriots' fourth quarter struggles, and a look ahead after the jump.

Going against the worst offense in the NFL, the Patriots' defense allowed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and simply couldn't stop anything. Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky threw for something like 250 4th quarter yards and two touchdowns. Donald Brown also added a touchdown. The Patriots were content sitting back in their zones and allowing Indianapolis to pick up 10-15 yard chunks every play. And while it's easy to say that the game wasn't as close as the score suggested (New England did have Brian Hoyer playing midway through the final period), the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the win or the loss. And the way the Patriots played, Indianapolis was really just an onside kick recovery away from having the chance to steal a win from New England.

I understand that this seems a bit dramatic, but it really just amazes me that the New England defense didn't show the desire to close out the game. The unit played exactly the same against Philadelphia in the fourth quarter last week. Where is the pride? Where is the desire to keep their opponents out of the end zone? Seeing Indianapolis march up and down the field should piss them off. In fact, I can't imagine that it doesn't anger them. Which is why I can't understand the "prevent" argument or the "garbage time" argument. Do you remember the heart the unit showed as they looked to preserve their 45-3 lead against the Jets last season?

Enough of my mini-rant. The bottom line is, the Patriots came away with another victory, their fourth in a row, and they currently are still in a tie for the first playoff seed in the AFC. With four weeks to play, the Patriots are still maintaining a virtual three game lead over the Jets (they own the head to head tie breaker). I could be wrong, but I believe that a New England victory and Jets loss next week would clinch the team the division.