It appears that the rumors of the Patriots death have been greatly exaggerated. The team rattled off their second win in a row with a convincing 38-24 defeat of the Colts on Thursday night. The game was a weird one that started out with the greatest kicker of all time botching a field goal, and ended with the greatest quarterback of all time setting a new record, with a whole bunch of crazy interceptions thrown in in between. Here are the highlights from the primetime matchup:
– Sony Michel continues to prove the haters (Felger and Mazz) wrong. He finished the game with 18 carries for 98 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He also should have had a second touchdown early on when the Patriots had the ball on the one-yard line, but his offensive line did not get a good push on either first or second down. Michel looked explosive and powerful. He also turned a few busted plays into positive yards. His vision was impressive and his stiff arm on Colts safety Matthias Farley on his way to the end zone was fun to watch. Michel seems to be finding his groove, and his contributions to the offense will likely continue to grow.
*Fun fact for Felger and Mazz: In LeGarrette Blunt’s nine seasons in the NFL, he has only had two instances where he has rushed for 100+ yards in back to back weeks. Michel rushed for 100+ last week and 98 this week, and is only four games into his career. Maybe, just maybe, a running back with first-round talent can have an impact on a team’s success.*
– The Patriots offensive line deserves a lot of credit for their performance. They played great in the run game for the second week in a row, opening up some huge holes for Michel. Shaq Mason looked like the player that they are paying him to be, and Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown continue to impress with their athleticism. They also had their best game of the season in pass protection, giving up zero sacks and giving Tom Brady a ridiculous amount of time in the pocket all night. Now, it is fair to say that the Colts defensive front was lacking some of its best players due to injury, and that the Patriots had an advantage. The Patriots performance is commendable specifically because they should have played that well against a depleted Indianapolis front seven. They did what they were supposed to do.
– The one area for concern with the Patriots offensive line is penalties. For the second game in a row they had a significant number of holding calls that have set the team back. New England’s offense has been able to make up for these blunders so far, but they will not be so easily overcome against better competition.
– Julian Edelman’s presence was notable, in terms of both his production and the energy he brought to the team. He caught the first pass of the game from Brady, and went on to make seven receptions for 57 yards. He would have had even more if he hadn’t dropped Brady’s pass on a wide-open wheel route. Edelman also had two punt returns for 20 yards. He looked to be his old self, making contested catches when the team needed a playmaker.
– Josh Gordon caught his first touchdown as a Patriot, high pointing a ball from Brady in the end zone. While his overall production has not jumped off the page, this play was eye-catching because he went up to get the ball in Moss-like fashion, instead of waiting for it to come to him. He is making his presence felt early, which is all the Patriots can ask for.
– Rob Gronkowski played despite his injured ankle, tallying six catches for 75 yards. He was also very active in the run game, where he had a key block on Michel’s touchdown run. This was the first time since 2016 that Gronk and Edelman were on the field together; they certainly made it count.
– Chris Hogan’s struggles continue. While he finished with three catches for 34 yards, most people will only remember his disgustingly bad dropped pass that was picked off by the Colts. With Edelman back, Gronkowski healthy, Gordon improving, and James White dominating the field, Hogan has less pressure on himself, and therefore shouldn’t be struggling to have an impact on the game like he is.
– Tom Brady played absolutely flawless, finishing 34/44 (77%) for 341 yards and three touchdowns. I refuse to include his two interceptions because neither were his own fault; both were balls that his receivers could have secured. In fact, if you take away those, as well as Julian Edelman’s utterly absurd dropped pass, then Brady should have been 37/44 (84%). His throws made with pinpoint accuracy all night, with his best coming in the third quarter as he hit Gronk across the middle of the field while being dragged to the turf. Brady was in MVP-form Thursday night, commanding a dominating offense and throwing with astonishing ability for a 41 year old.
*Brady also had a record-setting night, passing Vinny Testaverde for an NFL record passing touchdown to 71 different receivers. Brady also threw his 500th touchdown pass, putting him just eight behind Brett Farve for second all-time.*
– James White is James White. The most underrated player in the league finished with 10 catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, as well as a number of key pass blocks that won’t end up in the stat sheet. He has been the team’s MVP so far this season and it’s not even close.
– The Patriots’ secondary was a mixed bag on Thursday night. They had a number of great plays, including a fumble caused by Devin McCourty, and key pass breakups by Duron Harmon, Stephon Gilmore, and Jason McCourty to name a few. However, they also gave up over 365 yards in the air. While a good chunk of that came in garbage time, those are still not numbers that you want appearing on a stat sheet. It also doesn’t help that the Colts were without their two top pass catchers in TY Hilton and Jack Doyle. New England could have been better in man coverage. Specifically, Jonathan Jones could have been better defending the pass, as he got beat on a few passes, as well as getting flagged for illegal contact. Their performance as a unit was not particularly ideal considering the fact that they need to play the Chiefs in a week and a half, who currently have some of the most dangerous weapons in all of football.
– While Devin and Jason McCourty were not perfect tonight, their connection on the field is visible, and they are clearly making each other better by being out there together. It is fun to see how quickly Jason has fit into this secondary, and how he has been able to have a serious impact after nearly being cut at the end of camp.
– Kyle Van Noy continues to be a standout in the Patriots linebacking corps. He has defended the run extremely well, sealing the edge and showing explosiveness and strong recognition skills to blow up running plays in the backfield. He has been a solid open-field tackler as well. Van Noy finished Thursday night’s game with eight tackles.
– Hightower, on the other hand, still seems to be invisible. He has made few, if any, impact plays, and is struggling in both coverage and pass rushing. It is unclear if it is because he is not fully healthy, or if he is just not the player that he used to be. It will be interesting to see if he can turn it around.
– The Patriots defensive line was good, not great. They held the Colts to 84 rushing yards on 21 carries, limiting their ability to grind out drives and stay on the field. However, they did not produce a consistent or overpowering pass rush, only finishing with one sack. Adrian Clayborn did seem to be having success against Colts left tackle Le’Raven Clark all night, but he still did not manage to bring Luck down. They will need to do a much better job against Patrick Mahomes, who has excelled in throwing outside the pocket.
– The Trey Flowers difference is unreal. He collapses the pocket quickly, and is a fantastic run stopper. His lethal combination of strength, speed, and length make him a dynamic defensive player, and he showed that on Thursday against the Colts.
– The injury bug could be hitting the Patriots defensive line, as Malcolm Brown and John Simon both left with injuries. While Brown was cleared as probable to return, he remained on the sideline, and Simon never returned from the locker room. While Brown hasn’t played to his potential so far this season, losing him for a significant amount of time would still be hard on the defense.
– The Patriots third-down efficiency over the past two weeks offensively and defensively has been huge. The Patriots were 5/10 converting on third down, which was crucial in them extending their drives and wearing the Colts down. New England’s defense also held Indianapolis to 7/15 on third down, two of which came in garbage time drives. The Patriots have been controlling the ball much better both offensively and defensively, which has been key to their success over the past two games.
The best thing about this win was that while most saw it as convincing, the Patriots made enough mistakes for Belichick to rip them for all week. Despite putting up 38 points and winning by two scores, they will focus on the negatives that cost them a chance at simply beating the Colts by 50.
The Patriots were supposed to win this game and they did. It was a solid win to right the ship and get them back on track as they head into one of the toughest regular season weeks of the season.
Until next time – B$