By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- I honestly do not know how we're supposed to sit down and discuss this game, all the while pretending like the single worst play in NFL history didn't just happen!
I mean, really. We're supposed to analyze the Colts' offense, the holes in the Patriots' defense, the individual efforts by numerous players, the injuries suffered and the big plays made when the forefront of our brains are all filled with deep, fond memories of the single worst play in NFL history?!?!
I'll do my best; really, I will try. But listen: It's not going to be easy. And if a random outburst about the single worst play in NFL history happens to slip out over the course of this story, then please show a level of understanding. I'm only human.
So here they are, all of the leftover thoughts from the Patriots' surprisingly close 34-27 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis.
--Aaaaaaaahahahaahahaahahaha hooooooooo boy haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa hoooooooooohohohoho. OK, OK, OK, I had to get that out of my system. I should be OK now.
-Bahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhahahaahahahaahahahaahaaha! Sorry, had one more.
--As hysterical as the "trick play" was, let's discuss the impact it had on the game. The Patriots led by just six points at the time, late in the third quarter. They went three-and-out on their previous possession, and they had gained just 15 yards before punting on the possession prior to that. Had the Colts just punted the football like any normal football team would have done, then let's say the Patriots get the ball around their own 17-yard line. Let's say they pick up a first down or two but again stall out. Whatever it is the Colts were doing at the time was working, so it's not unfathomable to believe Indy could come up with another stop.
And given that Andrew Luck had a decent enough game, it's realistic to think he could have led the Colts on a scoring drive, either for three points to cut the lead to 27-24 or for a touchdown to take a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Now, anything can happen after that, and it'd be wrong to say the Colts would have won had they not run the single worst play in NFL history. But given how lost, confused and sad the Colts looked for the 10 minutes following the single worst play in NFL history, it is fair to say the decision to run the "trick play" cost them any chance at really competing.
--I put "trick play" in quotes because there really wasn't much trickery involved at all. It was simply the Colts saying, "Hey, New England, here is our receiver playing center, and here is our safety playing quarterback, and here is nobody blocking for them. We will snap it to him and you can tackle him for a loss of a yard, and then you can have the ball at our 35-yard line. Cool? On two, ready?"
There was really only one possible thing that could have happened, based on that "formation." And it's exactly what happened! It happened!
--I'm left with one question: Do the Colts practice? They can't practice, right? You would never run that play (illegally, to boot) if you actually held football practices. Not professionally, at least. Maybe the Little Giants would try something like that, but not a professional football team.
--Before Twitter, I really thought I had some creative, unique jokes. Like, for example, my hilarious one-liner concocted last night that said the Colts would be raising a banner for holding a lead at halftime. Alas, by about 11 p.m., 48,000 people had already Photoshopped the exact same thing on a banner.
Twitter is the pits, man. I'm funny! I swear! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people!
--I have to say, I'm stunned that the margin of victory was only seven points. Granted, it now seems to be in the Patriots' actual game strategy to force teams to dink and dunk their way to points late in games. They let Pittsburgh bleed the clock to score in the final seconds in Week 1 in order to lose by seven, they didn't exactly play with tremendous urgency in the fourth quarter in Buffalo, they let Jacksonville tack on a sad touchdown in the final minutes of Week 3, and they were happy to let Dallas waste 8:31 in order to kick a field goal last week before letting them drive the length of the field to help kill the clock.
Clearly, the Patriots aren't pushing themselves to force three-and-outs late in games in which they lead comfortably, so I wouldn't consider this a seven-point game in the classic sense. But, you remove that inexplicable "trick play" and you give that onside kick recover to the Colts (which I think they deserved), then you've got a real ballgame. I honestly didn't expect that coming in to the game. So, good for the Colts, I guess, for not getting run out of their own building.
--Though, honestly, the Colts were kind of setting themselves up for failure. Shooting off fireworks after a first-quarter touchdown is fine and normal, but adding streamers to the mix is embarrassing.
For the record, it was embarrassing when the Atlanta Hawks dropped streamers after winning full playoff games. Yet the Colts are shooting streamers after first-quarter touchdowns.
Be better than the Hawks, Colts. Be better than the Hawks.
--The whole DeflateGate storyline didn't really have much life to it. Turns out, the teams actually just played football. I will say that Julian Edelman seeking out the Colts logo as a target for his post-touchdown heave was noteworthy, as was Brady's crazy guy/maniac face when calling for a spike.
That looks like a guy willing to fight through a pack of bears in order to score points.
Brady also was seen holding a game ball on the field after the win, and he denied keeping any game ball in his curt postgame press conference. So there clearly was a lot of hatred and rage bubbling under the surface for Brady.
But other than that, there was nothing overt in this one that showed the Patriots were "extra" motivated to beat the Colts. (Even though they definitely were.)
--The Colts' bad decision-making actually began on the first play of the game. Griff Whalen caught Stephen Gostkowski's opening kickoff about 9 yards deep in the end zone but decided to return it anyway. He was swarmed by about 25 Patriots at the 11-yard line.
But fortunately for Griff, that was only his second-worst decision of the night.
--We're now going to get into what I call the "Colts Defense Struggles" portion of the night.
Here's Danny Amendola with some room to run:
(Amendola, by the way, had more receptions and yards than anyone else on either team with seven for 105. He had more than twice as many yards as the closest Patriots, as Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman each had 50 yards.)
Here's the "coverage" that allowed Keshawn Martin to adjust to a horribly thrown pass on the first play of the second quarter:
Here's some more tight coverage on Amendola:
And here's the Colts losing track of the single most impactful player in the NFL, thereby allowing Rob Gronkowski to score one of the easier touchdowns of his career.
All in all, there's probably some work to be done in the video room this week for the team in blue.
--That being said, the Patriots' defense had plenty of issues of its own. I know they were without Dont'a Hightower, but I found the regularity with which they left receivers wide open underneath to be quite questionable. Andrew Luck clearly didn't have the shoulder strength to get many passes downfield, yet the Patriots still allowed the quarterback to pick apart the defense with short routes.
Luck had a damn fine game (30-for-50, 312 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs), which was impressive in its own right. But that wasn't a championship-caliber showing for the New England defense. Not even close.
--Jerod Mayo played 23 snaps (according to Mike Reiss). He recorded zero tackles (according to the stat sheet). You have to think his knee just isn't right, because even though he wasn't a Patrick Willis in the Patriots' defense, Mayo was a reliable, solid player who always had his nose in just about every play. I've heard people say that age has caught up to him, but come on. He's 29 years old.
--Here's a question that might never be answered: Why did the Patriots go out of their way to pay Marcus Cannon? It's really rather wild. He's never excelled at any position on the line, yet the team made sure to lock him up on a two-year extension worth $9 million last December.
That decision seemed curious, but it appeared like it would pay off in a big way this week when Nate Solder was placed on season-ending IR. Yet ... Cannon's big break lasted all of one series. He hurt his toe and didn't return.
I'm not going to sit here and question a guy's toughness. Frankly, a toe seems very important when you weigh 335 pounds and you have to be quick on your feet on every single snap in order to protect the quarterback's livelihood. So by virtue of getting hurt, Cannon didn't do anything wrong.
But it's year five in Cannon's career and there's still been little evidence to us on the outside what exactly he does well enough to have earned that contract.
--Does offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo get enough credit? I say no. Remember, just last year, people in New England wanted him cast off to a deserted island after the makeshift O-line struggled to do anything right through the first month of the season. In reality, DeGuglielmo was replacing a legend in Dante Scarnecchia, and he was also given a freaking tuba player to work with, so all he could really do was fail.
But it's worth noting and appreciating what DeGuglielmo has been able to do with the offensive line since last September, and specifically this year. He unexpectedly lost Brian Stork for half of the season just before the year began. He worked in some innovative shifts at all the positions. He's managed to get rookies Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson into the mix. He's helped Josh Kline develop from being a one-man warning siren for Tom Brady's head last year into a reliable interior lineman this year.
And most recently, he's lost two left tackles in the span of a week. Though the offense didn't perform seamlessly on Sunday (Brady took two sacks and was hit six times total), you might never have known that Sebastian Vollmer was playing left tackle for the first time in forever and Cameron Fleming (fresh off signing from the practice squad on Saturday) stepped in at right tackle.
Meanwhile, a rookie center is working extremely well with Tom Brady for the second straight year.
The players involved all deserve credit, but so does Dave DeGuglielmo.
--There is a corporate executive -- no, scratch that, there are multiple corporate executives -- who OK'd that Macklemore and Russell Wilson commercial. There are multiple adult humans who said, "Yes, this is a good commercial. I would like this 30-second spot to represent and sell my product." Macklemore in a swimming pool talking to Russell Wilson as he bobs his head in silence! Real life!
Though to be honest, anything involving Macklemore is automatically hilarious. I laugh every time I write his name. Macklemore!
--Do you remember the Colts' fake punt? I do.
--Last year in Kansas City, there was a play where Brady should have run for a first down but chose to throw instead and forced the Patriots to punt. (Some people disagreed with that assertion, but they were also wrong.) The same situation sprung up early in the second quarter of Sunday.
If Brady tucks that one, he picks up the first down easily. Even if D'Qwell Jackson catches him from behind, the momentum of the tackle would've put the ball past the first down marker. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal.
--The Mike Adams interception return for a touchdown was obviously more than a little fluky, but give credit to Adams. He was selling out to wreck Edelman before the receiver tapped the ball into the air. Adams was heads-up enough to find the football and adjust his body position to grab it out of mid-air, stay in bounds and haul down the sideline for six. Impressive.
--I said it earlier, but I don't know how the Patriots were awarded possession following the sneak-onside attempt by Indy. Josh Kline fell on the football, sure, but he never possessed it. Like ... never.
If the officials had awarded that ball to Indy, then the Colts have the ball at the Patriots' 35-yard line, already leading by four.
I know that a lot of Patriots fans were upset with the officiating (I thought the crew was average, which was to say they stunk about as much as any other officiating crew), but no call was bigger than that one, and it went in the Patriots' favor when it really could have gone the other way.
--On the note of complaints about officiating, I believe people need to pick their battles. For example, when Scott Chandler literally smushes a grown man's face, that's going to get called. You can't go around smushing faces and expect to get away with it.
--I do hold an unhealthy disdain for officials, though, and I laughed at one moment in the second quarter. Dion Lewis' facemask was grabbed quite viciously by Mike Adams. An official threw a flag for a facemask but some hero official came running in from behind the play to inform his colleague that it was not, in fact, a facemask, but that Adams instead had his hand on the top of Lewis' helmet.
The problem was, ahhhh ... no.
--Forget about the fake punt*. This was the best thing to come out of Sunday night's game:
(*Just kidding. Please don't forget about the fake punt. Don't ever forget about the fake punt.)
--It's time for my Underrated, Gritty Play Of The Week That Might Have Gone Unnoticed But Deserves Some Attention And So Here Goes (UGPOWTMHGUBDSAASOHG, for short). This week's installment comes courtesy of Malcolm Butler, who chased down Donte Moncrief one yard short of the sticks to force an Indianapolis punt.
Just look at this #GRIT:
Jokes aside, it was impressive play, as Butler showed off some great speed and strength. He's pretty good.
--Butler's play to break up a pass to T.Y. Hilton in the second quarter was equally impressive. Mostly, that's because he bumped Hilton at the line and then had his back to the quarterback while chasing the receiver ...
... but had the awareness to turn and find the ball before breaking it up.
It's not an otherworldly play, but too often we've all seen Patriots corners have absolutely no idea where the pass is and end up plowing into the receiver and picking up a PI penalty.
--It's cool that Ryan Grigson watches the game with all of his friends.
Thank you for being a vigilant steward of that iPad.
--It's worth noting that not only did LeGarrette Blount haul in the first receiving touchdown of his six-year NFL career, but he also didn't catch one in his two years playing for Oregon. 'Twas a rare feat, indeed.
In addition to his 11-yard TD catch, Blount also ran for 93 yards and a touchdown. In his last three games as a Patriot against Indy, he's run 70 times for 407 yards and eight touchdowns.
If these two teams meet again in January, it might be a safe bet to expect more involvement from Blount.
--We can't not talk about the incredible play by Edelman on fourth-and-1 to shake four defenders en route to picking up the first down. We'd all be talking about what a terrible play call that was if Edelman didn't break all of these ankles.
It was a crowded night in the Indy locker room ice baths.
--I'm not sure what was a more pathetic effort by Indy's defense: Everybody's complete and total unwillingness to tackle LeGarrette Blount on his 38-yard touchdown run, or everybody's complete inability to get to Amendola on a converted third-and-17 screen pass. Aye aye aye, that team has some issues.
--I've watched a lot of football but I've never before seen this happen:
--I don't want to alarm you, but Tom Brady got stuffed on a third-and-1 QB sneak. If you've ever read this column before then you know that I've noted several times that he was 1 million-for-1 million on gotta-have-it QB sneaks on third- or fourth-and-short in his career.
Now, I suppose you could quibble and say he did not need this one. The Patriots did lead 34-21 at the time. But still. Brady was trying and he didn't get it.
So .. all I'm saying is ... ready yourselves for the apocalypse. Because that never happens.
--The next portion of this column works best if you blast the final minute of the "1812 Overture" while slowly scrolling down the page:
It was, truly, a night for the ages in Indianapolis.
--We can't end this without talking about the fact that JAMIE COLLINS BLOCKED A KICK WITH HIS THIGH.
That dude ... is a ninja.
--Overall, that wasn't the blowout we all expected. The Patriots looked slightly worse than anticipated, and the Colts actually put together a decently solid game (save for the single worst play in NFL history). The Patriots now face arguably the toughest home game remaining on their schedule next week when the Jets visit Foxboro, and they follow that up with a Thursday night game against the "We Will Kill Your QB Because Our New Coach Is A Psychotic Madman" Dolphins. As we all learned on Sunday night, neither will be an easy win.
The Patriots are a good team -- a very good team, in fact -- and they'll win at least 12 games and will win their division. But they have some warts, and some injuries, and both showed up on Sunday night. There's no reason to be down on the Patriots, of course, but I'd just say you might want to hit the pause button on ordering those tickets for Santa Clara.
--In conclusion, the Colts ran the single worst play of all time.
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