PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebates a third quarter touchdown agiainst the Indianapolis Colts during their AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005, in Foxboro, Mass. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Patriots: How They Managed To Win Again
By Matt Colantonio, Site Contributor
After watching the game Sunday, it was clear there weren't many things the New England Patriots did wrong in their AFC Divisional game against the Indianapolis Colts.
With the Colts came a highly vaunted offense that had the ability to put up 30, 40 points or more on a good defense. The Patriots had to find a way to stop that from happening. Their main objective in the game was to win the battle of time of possession, and they did it easily. New England finished the game having controlled the ball for 37:43, compared to 22:17 for the Colts. They were able to accomplish this by running the ball effectively. Running back Corey Dillon led the charge with 23 carries for 144 yards, while Kevin Faulk chipped in for 56 more on 11 carries.
"We did what we do best," Patriots FB Patrick Pass said after the game. "We played hard-nosed, physical football. We got a 230-pound bruiser [Dillon] who ran for over 1,600 yards. Why not give him the ball?"
By totaling over 200 yards on the ground as a team, the Patriots were able to accomplish two things: they kept Manning and his potent offense off the field, and they wore down the Colts defense. When Manning was able to get in the game, it was clear he wasn't completely comfortable. The Patriots' offense had as much to do with this as their defense. With drives of 14, 15, and 16 plays amounting to 94, 87, and 78 yards, respectively, Manning was left cooling on the sideline for an inordinate amount of time. With these drives taking up 7:24, 8:16, and 9:07, not only was Manning forced to idly stand in the snowy, freezing conditions of Gillette Stadium, but the Colts defense was worn down on each possession.
The Patriots not only controlled the ball on offense, but the defense kept the Colts from doing the same. While New England's offense played flawlessly avoiding any turnovers, their defense forced three fumbles (recovering two) and intercepted Manning once. "Their defense outplayed our defense today," said Colts linebacker Cato June. "Their defense gave their offense more chances than our defense gave our offense. And when they had to, they got the ball back, and we didn't." The Colts never had good field position and weren't able to establish any form of momentum. They played at a disadvantage the entire game.
The Colts inability to sustain drives provided the Patriots the opportunity to take advantage of a weary Colts defense. "They just wore us down," Colts safety Bob Sanders lamented. "And we were on the field a little bit more than we expected." The ball controlling Patriots offense ultimately put too much pressure on a Colt defensive unit hurting without impact player DE Robert Mathis. Mathis was second on the team with 10.5 sacks this season, but was unable to play due to an injury he sustained in the Wildcard victory over the Denver Broncos the week before.
The Patriots biggest success of the day was keeping Manning off the field. They made key tackles on third and short, killing the Colts momentum before it ever got started. Tedy Bruschi and the rest of the Patriots linebackers shut down the Colts running game by allowing Edgerrin James to rush for only 39 yards on 14 carries. Without a solid run game, Manning never had the opportunity to open up the field by throwing deep. It was this lack of the deep passing game that prevented the Colts from exploiting any advantage they may have had over the beat-up Patriots secondary.
Maybe the most influential advantage the Patriots had over the Colts, was the weather. All week, Patriots fans were checking the local weather forecast, hoping to see signs of a snowstorm heading toward New England. Their hopes and prayers were answered roughly 45 minutes before the game. "I love the snow," said LB Mike Vrabel after the game. "When it's December and January with the snow coming down in Foxborough, it's sort of magical to me." It certainly proved to be Sunday, as well as for the rest of the New England Patriots.
Although the field appeared to stay in fairly good shape throughout the game, the snow and cold certainly affected Manning and his teammates, who so often relied on the deep ball and the quick slant, two things that didn't work well in Sunday's weather.
The over/under for the game was 52, but with the weather on the side of the Patriots hard-nosed defense, there were only 23 points scored in the game, just 3 by the NFL's top-scoring team. Not exactly what the Colts had hoped for while practicing indoors in the RCA Dome all week.
Matt Colantonio is a site contributor for the Patriots Insider. His passion is Boston Sports, helping others including those with special needs, and coaching kids sports. After a stint at NESN, Matt felt it was time he shared his sports wisdom and writing skills with the unfortunate masses. You can reach Matt on the Patriots Insider message Boards, or send comments to him here
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