Monday, November 5, 2007

Patriots 24, Colts 20 (11/4/2007)

A "football game for the ages" that actually lived up to the hype -- wow! I think that's happened to me three times; in my entire life. The Patriots overcame the Colts, the crowd noise (both live and "memorex"), and the officials for a scintillating 24-20 victory that put them on top of the AFC all by their lonesome. The win kept their record perfect (9-0) and essentially gave them a two-game lead on the Colts for home field advantage in the playoffs. It also maintained their 4.5-game AFC East advantage over the Buffalo Bills, who have won three games in a row.

Not the O-line's best game, but the Colts defense had something to do with that. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are so fast on the pass rush that Brady had little time to head- or pump-fake, and that made it tough to do much early in the game. Matt Light and Nick Kazcur had first half gaffes (a big penalty and a blown block, respectively), but by the end of the game, the Colts D-line had been worn down and was almost completely ineffective. There wasn't much running room, either. But I don't fault the O-line for that -- the Colts have become very good at guessing when the Patriots will run, and they over-committed their secondary players to stopping the run. Seems like the Patriots should have been able to exploit that, and perhaps they will if the two teams meet in the playoffs.

Brady's stats don't reflect it, but he was absolutely brilliant under constant first-half pressure. He took what the defense gave him, not forcing anything until late in the quarter (when Matt Light's penalty made it 2nd-and-24). And even then, his interception should have been nullified because the defender pushed off Donte Stallworth -- but more on the officiating later. However, Brady really shined brightest in the fourth quarter. After the Colts took a 10-point lead, Brady led the following touchdown marches back-to-back: 7 plays, 73 yards, in 103 seconds; and 3 plays, 51 yards, in 43 seconds. He finished the day with as many INTs as he'd had all year (2), but his 25th fourth-quarter comeback was sorely needed and as impressive as any of the first 24 of them.

The receiving corps was led by Randy Moss (9 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown), who made a ridiculous catch over the middle and had another jump-ball grab in the end zone. Wes Welker (5 catches, 38 yards, 1 touchdown) was solid and necessary, catching two crucial passes on the second-to-last TD drive and converting a third-down to ice the game. He also threw in some very important yards on two punt returns and a kickoff return. Donte Stallworth had a very important catch down the sideline that set up Kevin Faulk's 13-yard touchdown grab. Overall, a nice day by the receivers, especially given how tight the Colts coverage was most of the day. The running backs played well, but no one stood out as having a great day. Laurence Maroney (15 carries for 59 yards) continues to work his way back into the lineup, and Brady had his second-longest career run (19 yards) to convert a 3rd-and-7. Aside from that, nothing particularly noteworthy.

The defense put on a gutty performance. They looked old and outmatched in the first half, with Joseph Addai running wild and Peyton Manning moving the chains relentlessly down the field. But the Pats held Indy to two field goals and a fluky touchdown late in that half, all of which kept the game close enough. All the while, the Patriots pass rush built momentum and started to get to Manning in the second half. Off-season acquisition Adalius Thomas hardly played, with the Patriots using five defensive backs and three linebackers (Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau got the lion's share of the snaps at ILB). But no matter. Jarvis Green and Rosevelt Colvin both had sacks and forced fumbles, and the secondary did a great job overall -- even when some horrendous officiating calls that went against them.

Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin had trouble setting the edge on the outside run, and Addai got most of his yards outside. (Note: I think the Pats might have to rethink their outside technique against certain teams, but perhaps I'll delve into that more in next week's "bye week" special.) But overall, it was a very solid team defensive plan: make the Colts beat you a little bit at a time and try to make them settle for field goals in the red zone. Rodney Harrison was great on Dallas Clark (2 catches, 17 yards), and the Indy wideouts and tight ends totaled only 11 catches for 111 yards and zero touchdowns (excepting running back Addai's 5 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown). Manning had more commercials than completions (and more pouts than touchdowns -- gosh darned it, I'm funny!), and the Pats defense basically owned the Colts offense in the second half, limiting them to 85 yards and a single 32-yard touchdown drive.

The Patriots special teams played a great game. Richard Seymour blocked a field goal, Wes Welker had two big punt returns and a kickoff return, Ellis Hobbs continued to excel on kickoff returns, and the kick coverage teams were exceptional. On average, the Patriots started their drives at their own 38 yard line, and the Colts started their drives at their own 21. So the Patriots started with an 17 yards (almost 2 first downs) advantage per drive. Kudos to special teams coach, Brad Seeley, on an excellent job with the game plan and with team preparation. In fact, the overall coaching was very good. They had great in-game adjustments to slow Addai and basically shut down the Colts offense in the second half.

Now, about that officiating. The Patriots set a team record for penalty yards (146 yards), and as regular readers of this email know, it's been a while since I complained about the officials (the 2005 Denver post-season game). When you play poorly, you usually lose, regardless of the officials. But there were some horrendous calls in Sunday's game, and they all seemed to go against the Patriots. Here's a list of the calls I think the officials missed, and how many yards (or opportunities) those blown calls cost the Patriots:

1. Asante Samuel called for defensive pass interference (37 yards). This call should have been offensive pass interference, but it gave the Colts great field position and they scored a field goal as a result.
2. Ellis Hobbs called for defensive pass interference (40 yards). This one should have been no call (there was no contact on the play), and it gave the Colts a first down at the Patriots 6 yard line. They scored their second field goal as a result.
3. Matt Light called for a personal foul (15 yards). They called him for a leg whip, but he committed tripping, which would have been a 10-yard penalty instead. That made it 2nd-and-24 (instead of 2nd-and-19), and Brady threw his first INT on the next play. Which leads me to...
4. Antoine Betha not called for pushing off on his interception. This should have been a 1st-and-goal for the Patriots at the Indy 2 yard line, but the officials missed an obvious interference call (and the Colts scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive).
5. On 3rd-and-20, the refs missed an obvious call when Kevin Faulk was held before the ball arrived. It should have been an automatic first down, but the Patriots ended punting. Both Faulk and Brady were livid -- and with good reason; there was no excuse for missing that call.
6. Randy Moss called for offensive pass interference (10 yards). Once again, there was no real contact, and the announcers said they didn't see any penalty. Fortunately, the Patriots scored two plays later, so no real harm.
7. All of that is in addition to the many holding calls missed when the Colts were on offense. Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin were held most of the day, and the Colts had only one offensive holding call all day long.

So if you include penalties called on the Pats or not called on the Colts, it cost the Patriots 133 yards on the day. Without the missed penalties, the game would likely have been another Patriots blowout win. We'll see what happens in the future, but I'm sure the Patriots will point out those penalties to the NFL and have the crew "spoken to" before next week.

So where does that leave us? Well, it's bye-week heaven, with a 9-0 team coming off a huge win over their nearest NFL rival. The Pats continued to put distance between themselves and the rest of the league, and now they've got a week off to get healthy and continue working Richard Seymour back into game shape. The Bills are 4-4, but believe it or not, if they lose next week, the Patriots will clinch the division title with a win over the Bills after the bye week. Of course, the Bills are playing Miami, which makes that scenario very unlikely.

Statistical Oddity of the week: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Brett Favre are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to beat 31 other teams during their careers. But what the Favre and Manning suck-ups conveniently forget is that Brady took just 104 games to do it. Manning took 152, and Favre took 248.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Sure, Brady kicked ass in the fourth quarter. But without stellar play from the special teams, there's no way they win that game. Welker's returns were key, and they Colts never returned a kick past their own 24 yard line."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-0!


  1. Hey,

    Ive been reading your stuff for over a season now and think you do a good job. A friend of my mothers has been nice enough to forward your weekly article. As a huge pats fan,I pretty much read anything I can about the team. Its nice to read something with some local flavor aside from bob ryan and dan shaunessy. Anyways, i read bill Simmons on ESPN the other day and he read my mind. What is going on with the officiating? That was brutal. Almost doing their best to make the Patriots lose. Either way, a crunch time drive made the difference in the game. Classic brady doing work. What about Welker? After the first down catch where he fell in bounds to keep the clock running, he jumped up, and said something to the effect of "Your F'ing terrible, Shut the F' up". I can only imagine the garbage he was hearing from Indy d backs all game. He was so fed up, when he made the game winning play, he needed to just let it go. I loved it. That arrogance is what the patriots will be known for this year and it couldnt be better. Everyone hates us and its a feeling that I have yet to feel with any sports team and its quite satisfying. I hope they smash their way to an undefeated season and super bowl victory to prove that they are the best football team of all time. keep it up.

  2. I think the officiating was among the worst I've seen in a long time. It's one thing to blow six obvious calls, but to have them all go against the visiting team is an inexcusable, second-rate performance. I hope the refs got reamed out by the league for their mistakes, and I hope the Patriots do better if there is a rematch.

    Thanks for reading; glad you're enjoying the updates.

    - Scott