But Bill Belichick gave his players Sunday through Tuesday off to recover from a very physical game against Tennessee before they return Wednesday to begin preparing for their second AFC Championship Game appearance in the last three years.
It certainly doesn't get any easier for the Patriots this week as they prepare to face a high-powered Colts attack, but Bill Belichick gave his players Sunday through Tuesday off to recover from a very physical game against Tennessee before they return Wednesday to begin preparing for their second AFC Championship Game appearance in the last three years.
The Patriots will have to clear up some of the communication issues that hurt them defensively last week or the task of stopping the always-adjusting Peyton Manning will become even more daunting. New England's defense struggled on third down against the Titans, who converted 54 percent of their offensive chances against soft coverage. The Patriots allowed only four of its first 13 opponents to convert better than 40 percent of third downs, but have now allowed at least a 42.9 percent conversion rate in each of their last four games.
"I think our third down defense was one of the worst parts of the game for us," Belichick said. "They gave us some different looks and it is tougher to communicate defensively at home because of the crowd even though it's a good thing. It has to travel from the safeties to the corners and from the line back to the secondary, particularly in those spread formations and things like that when you are trying to check a coverage. That puts stress on the defensive communication."
The Patriots will certainly have to make adjustments against the Colts, who have an array of packages and skill players that can torch a defense. Indy will surely look hard at the Patriots-Titans game to see how Tennessee attacked New England, especially since it played both teams and is familiar with the personnel and the matchups.
"When you watch the film, you see how the Titans were trying to attack us," Belichick said. "They gave us some problems. There are some things that we either had to adjust during the game or if it comes up again, I hope we can do a better job against it. They had a good game plan. They hit some of our stress points."
It will be up to Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to figure out how to prevent Indy from attacking those same areas successfully. It's not as if the Patriots stopped Indy's offense in the first meeting, except for that last series on the goal line that ultimately won the game.
"We played Indianapolis this year and it literally came down the last play of the game on the 1-yard line. You are not going to get it any closer than that," Belichick said.
That goal line stand back on Nov. 30 is why the AFC Championship will be played at Gillette Stadium and not the RCA Dome. In fact, if not for that defensive stop, the Patriots would likely have finished tied with Indianapolis and Kansas City and been the No. 3 seed rather than the No. 1.