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The Patriots dominated the game for 56 minutes, but the Colts scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes for a 35-34 win. Sound familiar? First week of the season when the Buffalo Bills outplayed the Patriots for 55 minutes before Tom Brady connected for two touchdowns to give the Patriots the 25-24 win. Buffalo gave the Patriots a gift by fumbling the kickoff return and the Patriots gave the Colts a gift by failing to convert on fourth down. Well, maybe the referees gave the Colts the gift because if you have a different officiating crew on the field Sunday night you could have a different result.
That’s what sucks the most about the loss because you could watch that play 100 times and still not know for sure whether it was a first down or not. I happen to think Kevin Faulk got the first down, but that’s just one guy’s opinion. I fully expect these two teams to meet again in the AFC Championship game and add another chapter in what is becoming one of the greatest rivalries the NFL has ever seen. My five thoughts:
I know what you’re thinking. How can a 6-3 team that would be the fourth seed in the AFC if the playoffs started today be the team to beat? Well if I learned anything from Sunday’s game, it’s that the Patriots are a better overall team than the Colts. Don’t get caught up in the records because the Patriots were without Wes Welker in two of their losses and Tom Brady was still getting re-acclimated to the NFL.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Fred Taylor or Sammy Morris were healthy on Sunday night, the Pats win this game comfortably and we aren’t debating what to do on fourth down. One of those two guys is going to be healthy in January so you can forget about this team have any blaring weaknesses. Can any other team in the AFC claim that? I say the Bengals are the closest to a complete team, but I just don’t buy into them as a top team in the AFC just yet.
The Patriots have played four road games this season and there is a trend forming. In each of their four road games, the Patriots have taken a lead into halftime but only have come out with just one win, which came against the far inferior Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In their three losses, the Patriots have been outscored 44-10 in the second half, which is very uncharacteristic for the team. This is not very comforting now that the road to the Super Bowl will likely go through Indianapolis, but hopefully the Patriots address this issue before the playoffs begin. The lack of a consistent running game has hurt the defense because the offense cannot stay on the field long enough to give the defense much needed rest. This brings me to my next point…
I’m done with this guy. I said it before and I’m saying it again. Every year he teases us with a couple good games and we immediately forget about the awful performances before. With Sunday night’s awful performance, I am ready to cut ties with Maroney for good. There’s no question he has talent running the ball, but he’s just not consistent enough to carry the ball 20 times a game and be productive. I don’t even care about the fumble at the goal line. Fumbling has never been a problem for Maroney (two career fumbles) so I’m chalking that up as a fluke play. It’s the fact that in the second half he rushed the ball eight times for just 16 yards. That’s not going to cut it when you are trying to win on the road against one of the best offenses in the NFL. If your team has a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter you should be able to run some clock and keep the Colts’ offense from coming back. We all know how that turned out and the lack of a solid running game really hurt the Patriots late in the game.
Rookie Sebastian Vollmer faced his toughest challenge in Dwight Freeney on Sunday and he responded by holding Freeney to zero tackles and zero sacks. Freeney is a notoriously tough matchup for Matt Light every year, but Vollmer was able to contain him and keep him from pressuring Tom Brady. This makes it two straight shutout performances by the rookie and he has shown that he is for real. I wrote last week that it will be interesting what Bill Belichick decides to do with Matt Light when he returns to the field and while he has mentioned that he will deal with the situation when Light is healthy enough to play, it has become clear to me that Vollmer is the better guy and Matt Light’s best chance to earn playing time is at RT over Nick Kazcur.