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Patriots vs. Colts: Fan Notes from the AFC Championship

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, by the Tuesday after a huge Patriots victory, my body has more or less recovered. I've gotten a few nights of sleep, the initial intensity has worn off, and I can start both looking back at the previous game objectively and moving on to the next opponent.

Not today, though.

I'm still exhausted. I'm still fired up. I'm still excited. And I'm still just a little bit damp from spending all of Sunday night out in the rain. And to be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl for the eighth time as a franchise, and six of those trips will have been made by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. You're damn right I'm going to be enjoying this one for a while. I have been enjoying this one so much, in fact, that I have now seen this game three times already: once live and in person, once online on NFL Rewind, and once last night on NFL Replay. If all goes well, I'll probably watch it another three or four times throughout the course of the week, as there is going to be a lot to break down before the Patriots hop on a plane to Arizona.

Starting with these long over due Fan Notes.

  • When I die, and should I have enough cash on me at the time to bribe St. Peter so I can sneak through the back door of heaven, there will be a Patriots home game on every Sunday. And every week the Patriots will win the toss, defer, and force a three and out to start the game. That first Colts drive went a long way towards calming my nerves.
  • Of course, the Patriots following with a three and out of their own didn't do much to help things out. Lucky for me the Patriots deflated their balls so much that Josh Cribbs couldn't accurately judge where the ball was coming down and he muffed the punt.
  • But seriously - what in the world happened to Josh Cribbs? Didn't he used to be one of the most dangerous return men of all time? How can he go from a guy you deliberately kick away from to a guy who tries to catch balls with his face?
  • And how come that ball bounced right off Cribbs's facemask while another certain ball stuck to another certain receiver's facemask like glue? Maybe the NFL should launch an investigation retroactively into the use of overly-sticky footballs.
  • OK, that will be the last reference to the ongoing absurdity. Time to focus on football.
  • Andrew Luck started this game looking like me every time I go to the bathroom - shaky and inaccurate. And not much went right for him overall. The only play that would even sniff his 2014 highlight reel from Saturday's game was that absolutely beautiful long pass to T.Y. Hilton on 3rd down. And while a lot of that is on Luck, tons of credit to the New England secondary for some absolutely phenomenal coverage.
  • After that first three and out where the Patriots decided to get cute and show the world that you never know what they are going to do (yes, we get it, Bill, if the narrative one week is "run", you'll open with "throw" the next), they decided to just dip into the LeGarrette Blount well and drink from it until it dried up. And despite the alleged dry mouth and dehydration that is said to accompany Blount consumption, that well sprung fruitfully for 60 whole minutes.
  • What was most impressive about Blount's day was that he found success through every gap he attacked was successful. Power dives. Stretch runs. Off-tackles. Everything seemed to work. And even when Indy sniffed out the play and collapsed the hole, Blount cut back, found space, and gashed into the secondary.
  • And it's that second point that is going to be incredibly important in a few weeks. Seattle's front line is to Indy's what Jaws is to Jaws: The Revenge, and so that vision and cutback ability will help keep the New England offense balanced. Going to need to empty out the toolbox against the Seahawks.
  • But enough about that. Plenty of time to break all that down. I'm still enjoying this one.
  • One of the areas where the final stat line is deceiving is the zero in the sack column for the New England defense. Luck wasn't sacked once, but he was constantly under pressure and had to pull down his throw and readjust his attack all night.  That goes a very long way in explaining why he had so much trouble throwing the ball.
  • The best part about it is that not only were the Patriots getting pressure, they were doing it with only four and managed to keep the pocket in front of them, thus preventing any kind of scramble to the outside. Keeping that pocket small and maintaining gap discipline is going to be important in a few weeks. When they did blitz, Luck was either running for his life or threw the ball into the ground.
  • As of right now, the Patriots have yet to register a postseason sack at all. That's going to need to change.
  • Luck didn't get much help from his receivers on Sunday either. That wheel route to Herron with Jamie Collins in coverage was as perfect a throw as you're going to see and it bounced right off his hands. Instead of 1st and goal inside the five it was instead 3rd and 10, which then became 4th and 10 and an Adan Vinatieri foeld goal attempt.
  • And then Vinatieri shanked it. You're going to have a tough time convincing me he didn't line up for that kick, take a look around, see where he was and who was across from him, and just couldn't go through with splitting the uprights.
  • I'm going to credit the number of drops from Patriots receivers on Sunday to the weather. A fair number of passes bounced off of the usually sure-handed pass catchers' mitts at various times throughout the game, and there was some initial grumblings about whether that's a cause for concern. But the rain was definitely a factor.
  • What a great playcall on New England's second TD of the day with the flat route pass to James Develin. Even though Indy more or less had Develin stopped short of the goal line, but the man is just too much beef to handle.
  • Note: the only time I will ever think that there can ever be too much beef at any point is in a football context. If there is ever a knife and fork involved, that phrase just doesn't apply.
  • I had no idea what happened to Revis when he sat out for a few plays. From my seat way up in section 330, all I saw was a huge pile of bodies and then exactly 75 Patriots staffers standing around Revis as he walked off. At first I thought he hurt his knee, but after watching the replay it looked like Dont'a Hightower inadvertently kicked him in the head as he finished a tackle. Looked to be standard concussion protocol. Phew.
  • In his absence, though, Malcolm Butler actually did a phenomenal job in coverage. I don't know if Luck still had Revis on the brain or what, but Butler's name wasn't called once- which is always a good thing.
  • It ultimately didn't matter, but that Tommy B pick in the red zone that resulted in at least a 10 point swing is one of those throws where you see the replay and have no idea what Brady was thinking. This wasn't a situation where Brady was under pressure and made a rash decision or got fooled by a disguised coverage or anything like that. He just tried to force it into Gronk, who was double covered, and paid the price for it.
  • That pick might speak to the importance of getting Gronkowski involved in the offense early; when he doesn't get his touches, Brady has a tendency to try and get him the ball when he probably shouldn't. So look for New England to get Gronk the ball early in a few weeks - hopefully to avoid that kind of thing from every happening again.
  • Andrew Luck's ensuing drive following that interception was a thing of pure beauty. A mix of short passes, intermediate routes, and effective adjusting to what the defense was presenting. Looking down his progressions, making plays, and running his offense to perfection. Unfortunately for Luck, it was his only good drive of the day - but it is a nice glimpse into the quarterback that he's going to be. I mean that throw to Hilton against Kyle, what a throw.
  • Although I'm not exactly sure why Vince Wilfork drew an Unnecessary Roughness call for trying to finish the play. Maybe because the refs thought he was already down? Hitting him too hard? I don't know. What I do know is that it turned a 2nd and long into a first and 10, and had that penalty not been called, there's a chance that the Patriots shut the Colts out completely.
  • After Tipton ran in for the score there, I couldn't help but hear Andrew Luck, in celebration, yell out to his teammates, "that's what I'm f***ing talking about!" I don't envy Luck the amount of flak he's going to take this week for his awful language and how he really needs to clean up his act now that the cameras are on him.
  • Jerrell Freeman's hit on Tommy B that drew the personal foul is the reason I fell in love with the sport of football. Just a great hit that disrupted the play, put the QB on his back, and helped his defense out. Now it's a 15 yard penalty and I continue to enjoy this game less and less.
  • New England was able to get three points to close out the half, seven points to start the third quarter, force a three and out, and then score seven more to basically put the game away and allow us all to relax for a change. Brady's third quarter was one of the Bradyest quarters of his career: 9 for 9, two touchdowns, five straight third down conversions.
  • And speaking of career days - I completely forgot that Josh Kline even existed. And that's the highest compliment that I can pay the man.
  • I'll tell you one offensive lineman I can't forget about, though: Nate Solder. In addition to me harping incessantly for years now about Julian Edelman is going to make his first NFL pass, I have also been whining about how Solder has yet to catch a ball in his career. Well I can cross both of those gripes off my list, I can do it in back-to-back weeks, and they both came on huge plays that resulted in touchdowns. Not too shabby.
  • And how great was that celebration with all the linemen jumping around and enjoying the moment? Even though Solder was the one who scored, you could just tell that the entire line was sharing in that TD. Those guys work harder than anyone on the field, and the only time anyone ever even mentions their name is when they make a mistake. Solder's TD finally gave them their moment in the sun, and it was really heartening to see them all taking the opportunity to share in it.
  • Watching Shane Vereen congratulate Nate Solder is always a riot as well.
  • I get the forward progress rule - but when a player makes a catch and then gets immediately blown backwards, kind of like how Gronk was on what ended up being a third down conversion, I find it odd that the ball immediately just goes to the furthest point reached. I understand you can't have a scenario where a player gets carried backwards like a fireman rescuing a damsel in distress from a burning building, but if there's a scenario where the defender clearly wins the test of strength, the ball spot should reflect that.
  • Why can't Tommy B just sneak down the field every snap? Kill the clock, gain three yards per clip, and wear down the defense.
  • This defense was so stifling in the second half, the Colts didn't even make it out of their own side of the field until there was less than nine minutes left in the game and it was already over. And even then, they spent exactly three plays over on that side before Luck was intercepted by Jamie Collins and he ran it right back into Indy territory.
  • Kyle Arrington had himself a day. He was asked to cover Indy's best recievers (with safety help) for most of the game, and he was absolutely superb. His only blemishes were a beautiful T.Y. Hilton catch on a perfect throw from Luck and a bogus pass interference call that he drew. Other than that, it was all cream cheese for number 25.
  • You know what Luck is really good at? Tackling intercepting defenders. Whether that's a compliment or not I will leave up to all of you.
  • And why do I feel like Luck's go-to word whenever he throws a pick is "Drat!"?
  • After the Revis pick immediately followed by the Blount touchdown, the Colts pretty much gave up. If this was little league and the mercy rule was in effect, that touchdown would have invoked it. It was just a matter of running out the clock at that point as the body language and playcalling coming from Indianapolis reflected a team that no longer wanted to be there.
  • I tried to find a gif or short video clip of the high five Tommy B gave right after that Revis pick as he took off his coat and reached for his helmet, but I couldn't track it down. Instead you'll just have to watch the whole interception itself here, and wait for the high five at the end. I don't know about you, but that looked pretty damn weak to me. It reminded me of high fiving that kid in elementary school who, no matter what, always had something disgusting on his hands; they were either filthy, or covered in snot, or glistening with something that should have been water but definitely wasn't, and the last thing you wanted to do was make any kind of contact. But, the kid wants a high five, so you kind of just lightly tap his palm before walking away so you can discretely wipe your hand off on your pants.
  • Even though the game was basically over after that Revis interception, Brandon Bolden either didn't get the memo or actively chose not to read it that, though; he was still out there straight up decapitating people. What a block. Apparently Andy Studebaker was coughing up blood after that one.
  • The fans apparently didn't get that memo either; the party started late in the third and is still rolling on, as far as I can tell.
  • I'm glad that the cameras caught Brady after the crowd began chanting his name; that was a really cool moment.
  • What the camera didn't catch, however, was just how long that moment lasted. The entire commercial break between New England's punt and Indy's next play was nothing but Brady pumping his fist as Gillette Stadium erupted around him before going around to almost every single member of his team thanking them for everything they put out this season. The final scene was Brady talking to Gronk, as intense as ever, right in his face, as his lips were as readable as ever. And here is what he said:
  • "Our best is yet to come! Our best is yet to come! THIS [long string of expletives] LEAGUE HAS NO IDEA WHAT WE'RE CAPABLE OF!"
  • Chills.
  • Also got a huge standing O as he left the field to make way for Jimmy Garoppolo. I will follow that man to hell and back and not think twice about it.
  • Well... at least the Colts can say they stuffed Jonas Gray.

We're on to Seattle indeed, coach. We're on to Seattle. Here we go.