PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning shake hands after their AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005, in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots won, 20-3. (AP Photo/ Charles Krupa)
REPORT CARD VS. COLTS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The Colts defense is taking a beating for not getting off the field and for not stopping the Patriots ground game. But the Colts' pass defense was solid most of the day and kept Tom Brady from getting in a rhythm even when New England went with its five-wide formation. Brady didn't make any critical mistakes although he threw two passes that were nearly intercepted. He completed only seven passes to his wide receivers and was forced to check down to Corey Dillon, who led the team with five catches, but for only 17 yards. Brady completed 18-of-27 passes for a pedestrian 144 yards with a touchdown while being sacked three times. His 5-yard touchdown pass came on a nice route adjustment by wideout David Givens, who was initially covered, but slipped away. Brady found him while stepping up in the pocket when it looked like he might try to scramble to the end zone. The conditions were tough for throwing, especially on the outside where the wind could affect passes. Brady played mostly a safe game and did spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, including two tight ends, three running backs and all five wideouts. He averaged only 8 yards per completion in the game. The pass protection was shaky and struggled against Indy' speed rushers.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-plus -- The Patriots took over the game on the ground and dominated to the tune of 210 rushing yards led by Corey Dillon's 23 carries for 144 yards and Kevin Faulk's 11 runs for 56 yards. Those efforts helped the Patriots put together scoring drives of 9:07, 8:16 and 7:24. They also had a 48-yard scoring drive that ended in a field goal and took only 1:26, but 42 of the yards came on Dillon's longest run of the day. He also had a 27-yard run to the 1-yard line that set up a Patriots touchdown. After some early outside runs were thwarted, the Patriots started pounding straight ahead and the strategy worked against the smallish Colts defensive front. The offensive line took control of the game and Dillon and Faulk did plenty of damage. The ground attack left the Patriots with manageable third downs and helped them stay on the field for 37:43.
PASS DEFENSE: A-plus -- Wow. League MVP Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdown passes during the regular season, but could not get his team in the end zone Sunday against a secondary that was without starting cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Ty Law ad relied on inexperienced defenders like Randall Gay, Asante Samuel and Troy Brown. The Patriots physical style completely disrupted the Colts timing and made Manning hold the football longer than he wanted to, which allowed the pressure to affect some of his throws. Manning completed 27-of-42 passes but averaged only 8.8 yards per COMPLETION, which was less than the 9.17 yards per ATTEMPT he averaged during the regular season. He threw for 238 yards, but fumbled on the Patriots only sack of the day and threw a meaningless late-game interception. His explosive wideouts were virtual non-factors. Brandon Stokley led the way with 8 receptions but for only 64 yards while running back Edgerrin James caught seven passes for 69 yards. Marvin Harrison had five receptions for only 44 yards and Reggie Wayne added three for 35. The explosive Colts tight ends were held in check with Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard combining for three receptions for 28 yards. The Patriots completely controlled the Indy passing attack and dictated the style of play. They forced the Colts to rely on some screens that were not overly successful.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus -- Indy rushed for 203 yards in the season opener against the Patriots. "We're a long way from that," defensive lineman Ty Warren said after the Patriots held Edgerrin James to 39 yards on 14 carries while allowing only 46 total rushing yards. New England dominated the line of scrimmage even without Richard Seymour and made the Colts rushing attack a non-factor. The most impressive aspect of it was that they stopped the run with only seven defenders, which made the Colts play action passing game almost irrelevant. The Patriots did a terrific job defending the stretch play and also the inside running game. It was the fewest rushing yards allowed by the Patriots all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Troy Brown did a nice job handling punts and was a shoestring tackle away from breaking off a touchdown return, but still managed a 20-yard return while gaining 28 on two attempts. Tedy Bruschi alertly handled a short kickoff and rumbled 15 yards to near midfield to give the Patriots excellent field position to open the third quarter. Adam Vinatieri connected on both of his field goal tries. Punter Josh Miller mis-hit a couple of punts into the wind and netted only 31 yards on five punts. But the net average was hurt by a pair of touchbacks. He also had two punts downed inside the 20 including one at the 5-yard line. The coverage teams were decent.
COACHING: A -- The Patriots defensive coaches came up with a terrific plan and the players masterfully executed it. Any game plan that holds the explosive Colts and their league-leading offense to just 3 points is worthy of high marks. The Patriots mixed up coverages and looks up front to make it difficult on Peyton Manning to adjust to the perfect play at the line of scrimmage. New England stayed one step ahead of Indy all evening. The only defensive miscue came when New England had 13 players on the field in a rare moment of confusion. It was pure brilliance. Offensively, it looked like offensive coordinator Charlie Weis may have stayed with an empty backfield too long at times when the protection was having trouble against the Colts rush. But the defense held up long enough to let the offense get going behind a dominant ground attack. Credit Weis for relying on the running game in the second half when the scored allowed him to do so. But the Patriots offense struggled early on while trying too hard to throw the ball down the field. The old shorter passes may have been more effective against an Indy defense that seemed intent on not allowing any deep completions. Overall, the Patriots mixed it up well, running 39 times and throwing 27.
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