by Greg Doyle
A look back at Sunday night’s 27-20 Patriots’ loss to Indianapolis was just as unpleasant as watching it live. Make no mistake about it, the Patriots played a very bad game all around. I suppose some solace can be found in the fact as bad as they played, there they were with a chance to tie the game in the final minute and a half deep in Indianapolis territory. Still, had they managed to do so, they still would have been significantly outplayed and that is disappointing in and of itself. Lets look at the units
QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady has had a decidely up and down season. Sunday was a definite down point. Perhaps the most down of the season, even more so than the Denver game. Sure, three of the four interceptions he threw were tipped. It unclear to me exactly what Indianapolis did to throw off Brady, but it looks like mainly they just mixed things up. They bumped his receivers off the line on occasion. They doubled his favorite receiver, Ben Watson, on big downs. They threw blitzes at him from different spots. Their front four generated a decent pass rush all night. It was enough to throw off Brady’s accuracy and cause some turnovers. The first interception to hault a drive on the Patriots first drive was an incredibly bad decision unlike Brady to make over the years. He was off on a lot of other throws. He needs to pick up his game and play more consistently if the Patriots are to have a chance to go far this year. One has to think that the passing game, in general, took a step back this week and they’re still a work in progress bound to have ups and downs.
RUNNING BACKS: A decent night. Corey Dillon had two touchdowns. He’s had the habit of pulling himself out of the game since he’s gotten here after longer runs. But those runs seem to get shorter and shorter as the years go by. Its gotten to the point where any run over six yards Dillon seems to pull himself out of the game. With a runner like Dillon, sometimes his powerful style is most effective when it comes right in a row. Bull them over with a seven yard run? Hit them in the mouth again with a repeat dose of the hard-charging Dillon. But he’s out of the game a lot of the time before they can really pound it with him. And against a team like Indianapolis, who is most vulnerable to a power back, that hurts. Laurence Maroney had a good game and was seemingly inches away from breaking a couple runs. Kevin Faulk makes me nervous. And lo and behold, tipping the ball up in the air on the last Patriots drive ended their chances. Its getting to the point with Faulk, the risk-reward analysis is starting to tip towards the risk side. Its getting to the point where I’m not sure I’d use him in a one score game much, except perhaps on third down when you need a pass catcher.
WIDE RECEIVER: Quiet night for this group. Congratulations to Troy Brown for setting the all-time Patriots record for receptions. Doug Gabriel and Reche Caldwell both had one big catch, but were quiet otherwise. This group needs to improve its play more.
TIGHT END: A decent day for Ben Watson, who had four catches despite close coverage from the Colts. David Thomas got himself open a couple times but Brady couldn’t hit him.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Inconsistent here as well. They were dominant at times run blocking in the first half, but in limited opportunities in the second half weren’t quite as good. They did allow some pressure in the second half particularly in the passing game as well. Billy Yates, filling in at right guard for Stephen Neal, clearly is a downgrade at that spot as well and the Patriots miss Neal.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Pretty good night for this crew. Richard Seymour had one of his better games. He created consistent pressure. The rest of the line was good. This is one unit that more than held its own.
LINEBACKER: Its becoming a legitimate question to begin to ask if Tedy Bruschi has began a decline in his career as he is not nearly playing at his old level and hasn’t all year. He used to be a playmaker, but hasn’t made many this year. He seems to be unable to shed blocks on running plays as effectively as he used to. Hopefully for the Patriots its just a slump and he’ll turn it around the second half of the year. Junior Seau, on the other hand, continues to play well even at his advanced age. He had an excellent game Sunday. The outsiders backers, Mike Vrabel and Roosevelt Colvin were good as well.
SECONDARY: A good night for Chad Scott. Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs, though it wasn’t all their fault, weren’t spectacular at corner. They had some moments, but it wasn’t enough. Rodney Harrison failed to be in position on the Colts first drive on third and long and allowed a receiver to get open to continue the drive. Then he got hurt, which was a problem for the Patriots. No one else stood out.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Patriots generated a couple decent returns, but were horrendous on kickoff coverage all night. It was a big factor in the Patriots never really forcing the Colts into bad field position all night and a battle they lost. The punting was mediocre. They did cause a turnover, but it was offset by bad coverage. Stephen Gostkowski missed one easy field goal.
Overall, a disappointing night for the Patriots. They simply played one of their worst games of the year and it cost them. They can beat the Colts, but have to be on the very top of their game to do so. They’ll have to be a much better team if they do get a chance again and whether they will be, with all the new parts, is still an open question. The Patriots are a good team. Even a very good team. But to beat the Colts, who are clearly still among the league’s best, they’ll have to be great. They have about a half a season to turn themselves from a very good team into a great team or their ultimate goal will not be reached this year.
The Jets come to Foxboro Sunday. Until then.