Colts, Patriots Will Both Benefit

While Indianapolis has a few extra lessons to learn from last Sunday's matchup, the outcomes from that battle will undoubtedly make both teams better.'s Ed Thompson explains why.

The Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots put on yet another great show for NFL fans on Sunday. Both teams have been playing at such a high level that it was inevitable that the difference in the game could have been decided by one possession or even just one play.

How evenly matched were these clubs? Both finished the game with a team rushing average of 3.8 yards per carry. They both turned the ball over twice. Tom Brady threw for 255 yards while Peyton Manning finished with 225. New England moved the chains for a first down 23 times and Indianapolis responded with 21.  The Patriots finished the day with just 13 net yards more than the Colts, while Indy posted a mere 16-second time of possession advantage.

Both teams also had some adversity to deal with before or during the game. The Colts were missing starting wide receiver Marvin Harrison and left tackle Tony Ugoh on offense and starting linebackers Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler on defense due to injuries. The Patriots were on the road in a noisy, hostile environment and appeared to draw a few questionable penalties that could have been devastating.

In the end, New England's ability to stay composed and stay true to the type of football that has helped them emerge as the league's only undefeated team assured that the game would still be close heading into the fourth quarter.

And that made a huge difference, because they were then able to string together two very poised offensive possessions that resulted in 14 points while grabbing a turnover that shut the door on the World Champions.

The Colts did a number of things that seemed to be out of character for this ball club. Here are just a few of the situations that will have the coaches and the players wondering what they were thinking:

  • After moving into great field position on the strength of short passes and terrific runs by Joseph Addai, Indy tried to connect on a long pass and then had Addai watching from the sidelines as Kenton Keith was dropped for a 5-yard loss. Toss in a Charlie Johnson false start and what should have been no worse than a 40-yard field goal attempt ended up being a 50-yard miss for Adam Vinatieri.
  • Inside the Patriots 10-yard line, the Colts popped off a pair of 3-yard runs, creating a third-and-goal at the 3-yard line. That's two-play territory with a couple more power runs since the running game was looking so good, right? Nope. A short pass fell incomplete and the Colts settled for three points on fourth-down instead.
  • After benefiting from a huge 40-yard pass interference penalty, the Colts got a chance to attack from the New England 6-yard line. But again, rather than using a potent rushing attack that was yielding good results, the Colts opted to throw on two out of three plays and only gained a yard. A relatively easy touchdown opportunity yielded three points instead.
  • By the end of the first half, the Colts had squandered at least 11 points due to some odd playcalling against a Patriots defense that rose to the occasion to defend their end zone.

    Rosevelt Colvin recovers a fumble after Jarvis Green sacks Peyton Manning
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    If you've watched the Colts much this season, you know that they've done a terrific job of making halftime adjustments this season. They did it last week against the Panthers and in their season opener against New Orleans, pulling away big in the second half after leading by narrow margins at the half.

    But that sure didn't happen this past Sunday. Here were some more oddities:

  • The Colts defense gave their team a lift by shutting down the Patriots with a three-downs-and-out series to open the second half. But despite having the lead and the momentum, Manning immediately went for the jugular by throwing deep on first down to Reggie Wayne. Instead of putting together a long, time-consuming drive to further wear down the Patriots defense, Manning's huge risk backfired as he got picked off by Rodney Harrison. If the Colts had realized any success going deep in the first half, this might have made sense. But take away Joseph Addai's catch-and-run 73-yard touchdown and Manning's longest completion during the first half was just 12 yards. 
  • On a 3rd-and-2 at the Indy 35-yard line, Manning tried to go deep again and this time barely missed connecting with Reggie Wayne. But the Colts had to punt instead of continuing the drive. In a game this big, was it worth the risk at that point with the Colts leading by three points?
  • With just under eight minutes to play and still in possession a 3-point lead following a touchdown drive by both teams, the Colts had the opportunity to run out the clock by putting together a drive similar to the one that helped them beat the Ravens in the playoffs last season. But the offensive line picked a fine time to pick up a pair of penalties to set up a 3rd-and-29, allowing the Patriots to pin their ears back and charge in for the kill. Manning was hit and fumbled, setting the Patriots up with great field position at midfield. With just four penalties the entire game, getting two during such a crucial situation will undoubtedly be a point that Tony Dungy will hammer home with his team this week.
  • But bottom line, both teams will benefit from this game. The Patriots, while getting a well-deserved win, got a wake up call that told them they aren't going to be able to run roughshod over every opponent this year just by putting on the pads and heading out to toss the ball around. The Colts were reminded what losing feels like, and were faced with the reality that at minimum one other team in this league is capable of keeping them from repeating as World Champions.

    And that's very bad news for the other 30 teams in the NFL. Because these two clubs will use the lessons learned this past Sunday to push themselves even harder the rest of the way this season.

    Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and are syndicated through You can contact him by email through this link.

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