Colts 27, Patriots 20 ... At First Glance

The Colts made history Sunday night and simultaneously became the league's only undefeated team with a huge 27-20 win in Foxboro over the New England Patriots. Ed Thompson shares his analysis and first glance.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick summed up his team's 27-20 Sunday night loss to the Colts quite accurately and succinctly.

"We just didn't play well enough to win. It's as simple as that. We just didn't play well enough to win," he said.

Despite being dogged in the media for the past week due to their poor ranking against the run, the Indianapolis defense played Colts football for sixty minutes, keeping plays in front of them, minimizing huge gains, and creating turnovers with pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and grabbing at the ball at every opportunity. It paid off big with the Colts stealing the ball from New England five times, a season-high for both the Colts defense who entered the game with ten turnovers and for the Patriots offense who had surrendered the ball just eight times prior to Sunday night's nationally televised game.

"We talked about it on Monday that we hadn't had the takeaways even though we were winning and it's tough to win without takeaways in the NFL," Colts head coach Tony Dungy said following the game. "That's what our defense is all about. Play a lot of zone defense, get a lot of guys to see the ball and break on it and make things happen and tonight they did."

While predictions flew in the media all week that the Colts would get run over by New England's powerhouse running duo of Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney and take their first loss of the season in Foxboro, this team is beginning to prove to everyone that other aspects of their team performance can overcome that one weakness, so it may be much ado about nothing over the long haul. They've faced running backs like New York's Tiki Barber, Jacksonville's Fred Taylor, Washington's Clinton Portis, and now New England's potent duo. And halfway through the season they are 8-0.

"The thing I like about our team is we're finding a lot of different ways to win," Dungy said. "We still aren't playing our best, aren't playing great or exceptionally sharp all the way around, but we're finding ways to win.

"Today Adam [Vinatieri] was a little bit off and our defense picked it up with five takeaways. Getting those key takeaways after he missed that field goal. I'm proud of our guys." 

Indianapolis became the first visiting team in NFL history to defeat two teams consecutively who had started the season at 5-1.  And they did it largely on the strength of the Colts' passing attack with Peyton Manning hooking up repeatedly with Marvin Harrison, and by harassing Brady throughout the night. After a huge night against the Vikings last Monday night, Brady finished this game 20-of-35 passing for 201 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. Toss it all together into the league's passer rating system and he ended up with an appalling 34.0 rating for the night.

Here are my thoughts on this game as I took a closer first glance.

-- Colts inactives for the game included LB Rob Morris, CB T.J. Rushing, S Matt Giordano, TE Jerome Collins, LB Keith O'Neil, G Matt Ulrich, WR Brandon Stokley, and DT Montae Reagor. That makes this win even more impressive when you consider that the Colts were missing two starters (Reagor and Stokley) and two of their best special teams coverage players (Morris and O'Neil). Everyone on the gameday active roster saw some action except backup quarterback Jim Sorgi.

-- Safety Bob Sanders returned to action for the first time since Week 2 following his arthroscopic knee injury. Think anyone noticed? Sanders didn't look any worse for wear, leading the team with 11 total tackles (8 solo, 3 assists) including some bone-jarring shots. And he topped off his performance with an interception after Gary Brackett made a great play on a deep pass to tip the ball into his awaiting hands.

-- I know it's a tired phrase for Colts fans after all these years, but wasn't Marvin Harrison simply marvelous once again? He's just something special to watch, but especially when he gets an advantageous matchup one-on-one and when he and Manning are so perfectly in sync. That catch in the right side of the end zone where he tipped the ball to himself and then managed to keep both feet in bounds even left Patriots fans shaking their heads in amazement. Harrison helped boost the team's confidence right out of the gate with four catches, including a touchdown catch, on the opening drive to help the team take a 7-0 lead. He finished the night with 8 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

-- If there is anyone left out there who wasn't convinced after the first seven weeks that rookie safety Antoine Bethea wasn't a big-time talent for this team, they should be now. His athletic interception on the Patriots' first drive was a morale-killer for a New England offense that got too greedy. After churning through the Colts defense on the ground and moving the ball nicely for what should have provided them with at least three-points for their efforts, Bethea made the leaping interception that denied the Patriots and quieted a crowd that was growing more rambunctious in the early minutes. Bethea was also the team's second-leading tackler with nine stops and was credited with two passes defensed.

-- Middle linebacker Gary Brackett made nine tackles and tipped the pass that set up Bob Sander's first-half interception. But he was replaced due to injury when the Colts defense took the field for the first time in the second half by rookie Freddy Keiaho, who is listed on the depth chart as a reserve at weakside linebacker. Keiaho told me earlier this year that he was learning to play the nickel linebacker role in the middle, just as Brackett had done his rookie year and was learning a lot from the veteran. But with Rob Morris also sidelined, Keiaho was a logical choice for the middle spot since he also had experience as an inside backer at San Diego State. He brought his high-energy presence to the lineup and made his presence known early with some nice hits and by getting the assist on the tackle that resulted in a Colts turnover when Raheem Brock (pictured, right) stripped the ball from Corey Dillon on the Patriots' first possession of the second half.  Keiaho finished the game with 6 tackles (4 solo, 2 assists) in just one half of play. He was also credited with a special teams tackle and an assist.

-- While Terrence Wilkins' fumble during a big kickoff return in the second half could have been a momentum-shifter, you can't help but be impressed by his overall performance during his kickoff returns last night. He averaged 35 yards per return, including a 70-yarder in the first half. But are you ready for some real irony? The Colts only scored one touchdown on possessions following his kickoff returns, and it was on his worst effort of the night when the team started at their own 18-yard line. On Wilkins' 70-yard return, they only got a field goal, and they didn't score on any other possession following a kickoff return.

-- Cato June hauled in a pair of interceptions, including the one that shut the door on New England's last gasp attempt to tie the game. The Colts converted the five turnovers into 10 points, but they grabbed two of those turnovers inside their own 2-yard line killing scoring opportunities for the Patriots. New England had 11 possessions, and the Colts defense allowed Tom Brady & Co. to score on just five of them. That's a far better performance than I think most people would have imagined possible prior to the start of this game.

-- The Patriots ran for 145 yards, but once again it was the new guy, not the veteran who did most of the damage. The Colts held Corey Dillon to 48 yards and a 3.7 rushing average, but rookie Laurence Maroney ran for 63 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average. Quarterback Tom Brady tacked on the other 13 yards for the team. But get this: Maroney only averaged 0.5 yards per carry better than his average for the season, and Dillon only averaged 0.2 yards per carry better. That's not too shabby, folks.

-- Tip your hat to the Colts' pass rush and the secondary for shutting down Tom Brady and his receivers after they had posted a four-touchdown performance last Monday night against the Vikings. Although he wasn't sacked, Brady didn't have much time nor many opportunities to complete deep passes as evidenced by his second-lowest yards-per-completion outing of the season (5.74 yards per completion). Patriots' season-leading receiver TE Ben Watson was more of a factor in the running game with his blocking than he was as a receiver. Other than a really nifty catch in the second half, his four receptions for 54 yards didn't have a big impact on the outcome of this game.

-- For the second consecutive week, Joseph Addai got a lopsided number of carries, but not with anywhere near the results of last week. Sunday night he got 18 opportunities, but posted just 43 yards for a season-worst 2.4 yards per carry average. He's now averaging 4.7 yards per carry for the year at the midpoint. Dominic Rhodes got just four carries for 13 yards (3.3 yards per carry) and is averaging 3.2 yards per carry for the season. The Colts had just two rushing first downs all night.

-- Peyton Manning was sacked three times and hit 12 times after averaging just one sack per week over the first seven games. After the game, Tony Dungy said the Patriots blitzed more than they expected, but there will undoubtedly be some analysis of what went wrong on those three plays this week. Manning completed 20 of 36 attempts for 326 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception.

-- There were no major lapses this week by the coverage teams, despite the Patriots having a pretty decent kickoff return threat in Maroney. While he averaged a healthy 27.8 yards per return, he didn't break a return for longer than 31 yards.

-- With Manning's interception and Wilkins' fumble on the kickoff return, the Colts have given up the ball to their opponents just six times. They came close to giving it up on one other occasion when Reggie Wayne fumbled a first-down catch, but TE Dallas Clark made a great play, quickly scurrying to the ball and knocking it out of bounds as it sat on the turf waiting to be claimed.

-- Adam Vinatieri had a rough homecoming with kickoffs that were just adequate and his first two misses on field goal attempts this season. He converted two others. Expect to see him bounce back in the friendly confines of the RCA Dome next week against the Bills.

-- The officiating of this game left a lot to be desired. Both teams were hit by questionable "taunting" calls as New England wide receiver Troy Brown appeared to be tossing the football to an official, not at Gilbert Gardner's head and Marvin Harrison spiked the ball in the opposite direction of where his defender was standing -- but had the bad fortune of having the ball pop up and hit a player who entered the picture after he started his motion. The knee-jerk first down call on Tom Brady's fourth-down quarterback sneak at midfield was just embarrassing as well. The official ran up from behind Brady making the motion before having proper position to make that call. There should have been a measurement so that both teams could have been sure of the outcome as it was just too close to move the chains like that. Overall, penalties were pretty equally distributed with the Colts being flagged seven times versus eight by the Patriots.

-- Tyjuan Hagler is starting to make some plays on special teams, posting a tackle and an assist last night just like Freddy Keiaho. Also getting ST tackles were Jason David, Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden and Rocky Boiman. Ryan LaCasse got two assists.

-- One of the key matchups that Greg Talmage featured at ColtPower this week was Robert Mathis versus rookie offensive tackle Ryan O'Callaghan. I think you can put a "W" in Mathis' column based on his results last night. He made 8 tackles, including 6 solo efforts and got his hands up to tip away two pass attempts.

-- I don't know about you, but I preferred seeing aging veteran Junior Seau making the plays against the Colts last night instead of Tedy Bruschi, who was shown a few times walking to the sidelines dejectedly after Colts scores.  Seau led the Pats with 11 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit. That said, the Colts will have to take a good look at the tape this week and figure out what LB Rosevelt Colvin was doing that allowed him to get seven hits on Manning last night. They need to shore up that problem -- and quickly -- to keep Manning healthy the rest of the way.

The Colts will face the 3-5 Buffalo Bills in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis this Sunday at 1:00 (ET). The Bills are averaging just 15.5 points per game this season, but are coming off a 24-10 home win over the Packers. The Bills defense forced four turnovers in that game to help notch the victory.


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