Here is the Patriots report card for their win against the Colts, according to the experts at The Insiders:
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The Patriots moved the ball through the air from the outset with quarterback Tom Brady completing his first 12 passes to help New England to a 17-0 lead. He was a crisp 16-for-18 at the half for 161 yards and the Patriots led 24-10. Then he fell apart. He threw a pair of ugly second half interceptions and nearly threw a third on the Patriots final possession. He was 10-for-17 in the second half and when the Patriots tried the run the clock out throwing the ball while clinging to a lead, he misfired on two passes before nearly throwing that third pick. But he completed 74 percent of his throws, which was the third highest completion percentage of his career and had two nice touchdown passes, including a 31-yard strike to Dedric Ward on which he hit the receiver perfectly in stride on a post near the goal line. It was a truly a tale of two halves, but Brady completed passes to nine different receivers and helped put his team in the end zone three times in three red zone trips, something he has not done incredibly well this season. Perspective is everything here. This grade could be much lower if Indy linebacker David Thornton catches what should have been an interception and the Colts take it in to win the game. Instead he dropped it and the Patriots held on.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The only thing that saves this mark is the short-yardage running. Mike Cloud converted a third-and-short on the Patriots first scoring drive and then also punched it into the end zone twice, once from 4 yards and once from 1 yard out. Those were the highlights. New England used some draws to successfully hit the Colts aggressive front at times, but overall, it failed to establish any threatening ground attack. Kevin Faulk finished with 15 carries for only 42 yards, and he fumbled on the 11-yard line with New England clinging to a 38-31 lead with 3:53 to go. The Patriots then got the ball back following a Colts field goal and went to the air rather than put the ball back in Faulk's hands. They couldn't run it to win when the game called for them to do just that. Cloud finished with 4 carries for 6 yards, but two touchdowns. New England's running game is floundering.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- New England came into the game having allowed six touchdown passes all season and allowed the Colts to hit them for four in the game. Rookie safety Eugene Wilson had his toughest game of the year as Peyton Manning picked on him often. He had a pass interference penalty and bit on fakes that led to a pair of easy Colts touchdown passes. He also was chasing Marvin Harrison when the Colts speedy wideout snared a 26-yard touchdown pass on a nifty play action. Finally, he dropped an easy interception on a tipped ball that fell threw his hands. But the Patriots forced two turnovers in pass defense, one coming on a strip-sack by Mike Vrabel in the first quarter that led to a Patriots touchdown and the other coming on a Tyrone Poole interception. Manning finished 29-of-48 for 278 yards, but the Patriots defense tightened when it needed to. After Faulk fumbled at his 11, Manning had three chances to throw his team into the end zone and instead threw three passes out of the end zone with his receivers covered. He then had a fourth chance on the last series but Poole had Aaron Morehead blanketed on the fade, which fell incomplete. It was an up-and-down day for the Patriots pass defense, but it was up at the most critical point in the game.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- Edgerrin James ran 25 times for 88 yards and fought through tackles for extra yardage. In fact, the Patriots did not have one of their best tackling days as James broke several seemingly half-hearted attempts on a 20-yard run. But then came the goal line stand that won the football game. First-and-goal at the 2 with 40 seconds left in the game -- James for 1 yard. Second-and-goal from the 1 - James for no gain. Fourth-and-goal at the 1 with 14 seconds left - James for a 1-yard loss. Patriots win. That said it all on this day. That stand was one of the more memorable series in Patriots history and defined the Patriots run defense. The return of Ted Washington has been monumental for the Patriots short-yardage defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Only the struggling Ken Walter kept this grade from being perfect. The Patriots punter has somehow kept his job despite consistent struggles. He averaged 27 yards on three punts Sunday, including a 38-yarder that was only that long because of a fortuitous bounce and an 18-yarder that gave Indy the ball on the Patriots side of the field for the Colts last possession. But beyond that problem, the Patriots special teams came up huge. Rookie Bethel Johnson answered a Colts touchdown with 12 seconds left in the half with a 92-yard touchdown return that swung momentum back in the Patriots favor heading to the locker room. Then after the Colts tied the game at 31 in the fourth quarter, he took another kick back 67 yards to the Indy 31 to set up the Patriots go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown. He averaged more than 38 yards on five returns. Adam Vinatieri hit his only field-goal try - a 43-yarder.
COACHING: C-plus -- For the first time since Week 1, the Patriots
seemed to lose their composure during a second half stretch that spanned from
about 5:00 to go in the third quarter to the same point in the fourth. Leading
31-10, the Patriots did little to try to get physical with a small Colts defense
and turned the ball over three times while Indy's offense was overwhelming the
Patriots defense on the other side. Fortunately for New England, the defense
calmed itself at crunch time and won the game, but it was just enough.
Offensively, the Patriots got the ball back with 3:23 to go, leading 38-34 and
took only 16 seconds off the clock before punting the ball away after throwing
on every play. That did not affect this grade. Bill Belichick gets the nod on
this one for saying he didn't think his team could run for a first down against
a stacked up Colts defense, especially after he watched Faulk fumble on his
11-yard line on the previous series. He was correct in saying that time wasn't
going to be factor for a Colts offense that scored two touchdowns in a 1:06 span
earlier in the game. It's a problem that he couldn't depend on his running game
and that's a problem that could be this team's undoing. Perhaps having a
deactivated Antowain Smith available at that point may have changed things, but
that's doubtful given Smith's ineffectiveness of late. The Patriots stayed
aggressive and tried to move the ball throwing it against a defensive set that
should have been vulnerable to the pass. "We tried to throw possession passes,"
Belichick said. "I thought that was our best chance to move the ball. My feeling
was that we needed to make plays to win and we were going to sink or swim with
that. I don't think time was going to be a factor."
Belichick, who generally challenges everything, failed to challenge a touchdown pass in the third quarter that was ruled incomplete. The Colts were called for pass interference in the end zone on the play, which gave New England a first down at the 1, but J.J. Stokes was clearly in bounds when he made the touchdown catch despite the official's on-field ruling that he did not get both feet down. On the next play, Brady's pass was batted in the air and caught by guard Joe Andruzzi, who then fumbled with Damien Woody recovering. It was nearly a turnover. Belichick should have challenged the incomplete ruling on the Stokes catch regardless of the penalty because it was guaranteed points. Mike Cloud eventually scored on a 1-yard run. Beyond those items, the Patriots coaches seemed to have a solid plan, especially offensively.