As the two most consistent teams in the AFC, they always seemed to find themselves on opposing sides a big game. They played each other 17 times from 2003 to 2015. Five of those games came in the playoff, including three AFC Championship games that accurately illustrated the temperature of a once great rivalry. Unfortunately, that rivalry is no more.
These two teams have met just once in the past six seasons, a 38-24 victory by the Patriots, who would eventually win their sixth Lombardi Trophy later on that season. Now, when the NFL’s schedule calls for these franchises to take the field against one another, you no longer get the feeling that a big game is on the horizon, but instead are reminded that it has been three years since they last did so. Since these games are now so far from each other, it gives plenty of time for each organization to make changes. Let us take a look at exactly what has changed since October of 2018.
The following 14 players from the last meeting with Indianapolis are still on the Patriots’ active roster:
OT Trent Brown, G Shaq Mason, C David Andrews, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Kyle Van Noy, S Devin McCourty, ST Matthew Slater, CB J.C. Jackson, ST Brandon King, LS Joe Cardona, DL Deatrich Wise Jr., QB Brian Hoyer, IOL Ted Karras
Offense: Believe it or not, 80% of the Patriots offensive line is returning to their roster from their last matchup with the Indianapolis Colts. The rest of the offense looks quite different.
Mac Jones has taken the reigns at quarterback for New England, the spot that Tom Brady held down for 19 of the last 20 meetings between these two teams. Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, James White, and Sony Michel have been replaced by the likes of Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Damien Harris over the course of the past three offseasons. The lone starting offensive lineman that wasn’t around for that October matchup is Isaiah Wynn, who spent the entirety of his rookie seasons on injured reserve. Rotational offensive lineman Michael Onwenu is another contributor that was not around for that last matchup.
Defense: It’s starting to become a theme in these articles that Lawrence Guy, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Devin McCourty headline a short list of returning players to New England’s defense.
Following an uncharacteristically bad 2020 season from the Patriots defense, we’ve seen even more changes than the ones that had been made in the prior two offseasons. Since October of 2018, key contributors like Matthew Judon, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Davon Godchaux, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Christian Barmore have all carved out large roles for themselves, while the likes of J.C. Jackson and Deatrich Wiser Jr. have come into their own as key pieces to the defense.
Special Teams: Things look a tad different for New England’s special teams unit, as Joe Cardona is the only remaining member of the 2018 championship battery. Former punter Ryan Allen was beaten out by Jake Bailey for the Patriots’ punting duties prior to the 2019 season, while Nick Folk eventually stabilized the kicking position for New England following the departure of all-time points leader Stephen Gostkowski.
Coaching staff: The Patriots coaching staff is basically unrecognizable to the one that helped them gameplay for Indianapolis in 2018. Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Ivan Fears, and Steve Belichick all return, while Carmen Bricillo has taken over for legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Demarcus Covington has replaced Brendan Daly as defensive line coach. Mick Lombardi is now the full time wide receivers coach, taking over for Chad O’Shea, and current New York Giants head coach Joe Judge was replaced by Cameron Achord as special teams coach.
The following 17 players from the last meeting are still on the Colts’ active roster:
LB Matthew Adams, RB Nyheim Hines, LB Darius Leonard, G Quenton Nelson, DB George Odum, WR Zach Pascal, OT Braden Smith, DL Kemoko Turay, RB Marlon Mack, DB Kenny Moore, LS Luke Rhodes, P Rigoberto Sanchez, DT Grover Stewart, C Ryan Kelly, G Ryan Glowinski, TE Jack Doyle, WR T.Y. Hilton
Offense: The Colts return a few notable names from their offense in 2018. Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, and Braden Smith —four of their starting offensive lineman from 2018— will continue to hold down the front lines while skill players returning include Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Zach Pascal, and T.Y. Hilton. Once the extent of what Indy had to offer at their skill spots, those players have found themselves taking a back seat to a pair of young stars. Jonathan Taylor is the NFL’s leading rusher, and has firmly supplanted himself as the most important pieces to the Colts offense, while Michael Pittman Jr. is starting to emerge as a #1 receiver in the league.
Oh yeah I forgot to mention, Andrew Luck retired due to injury and was eventually replaced by new starter Carson Wentz. Kind of a big deal.
Defense: Though the Colts have a few returning starters on defense from their 2018 team, none of them played against the Patriots in that last matchup. Darius Leonard was active but played zero snaps while Kenny Moore missed the game with an injury. Former starters Denico Autry and Anthony Walker have been replaced with Pro-Bowl level players Deforest Buckner and Bobby Okereke.
Special Teams: Rigoberto Sanchez and Luke Rhodes will return for Indianapolis at punter and long snapper, but the Colts have since needed to find a replacement for longtime kicker —and former Patriot— Adam Vinatieri. The permanent guy is Rodrigo Blankenship, but former Charger Michael Badgley will fill in for the time being while Blankenship works his way back from a hip injury.
Coaching staff: The Indianapolis Colts are one of a few teams in the NFL to retain the majority of a coaching staff for more than three years. Since being hired in 2018 as head coach, Frank Reich has kept Matt Eberflus and Raymond “Bubba” Ventrone as his defensive and special teams coordinators, while hiring replacement offensive coordinator Marcus Brady from within, following Nick Sirianni’s departure in 2021.
You may recognize Ventrone as he spent two different stints with the Patriots from 2005-2008. He is the brother of Ross Ventrone, who was involved in 31 different transactions by the Patriots over the course of five seasons.