The Pats and Colts are on different trajectories at this point in the season. The Pats were coming off a huge win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Colts continue to reel under the weight of mounting injuries, and were without key leaders on both offense and defense for this game. Even Bill Polian braced Colts fans for the possible loss:
“…most importantly, this game will not decide anything. There is a long way to go in this season. The winner of this game is not guaranteed to go to the Super Bowl, and the loser is not guaranteed to miss the playoffs. It’s one game and it’s interesting and exciting, but it’s only one game with seven to go.”
I started writing today’s quick reaction early into the game, already feeling pessimistic once the Pats went up 14-0. At that time, I wrote that this one wasn’t on Peyton. As I update this, however, I can’t but argue that Peyton at least shares the blame. With the opportunity to win the game, and already within distance to tie it up, Peyton threw his third and final interception of the game… against the NFL’s 29th-ranked pass defense. But Peyton does NOT carry the blame for poor special teams play (3 holding penalties) and poor tackling on defense.
The Colts’ first possession ended in an interception, which led to the Patriots’ first 7 points. It was somewhat of a seesaw from there. The Colts quickly dug themselves in a 14-0 hole after their next possession resulted in a punt and Brady found all the soft spots in Coyer’s defense. Manning refused to let this phase him, however, as he marched the team 70 yards down the field to get on the board on a play action toss to Gijon Robinson.
With renewed hope, the Colts kicked off only to have Brady march down the field again. Another blow came when Austin Collie, newly returned from a concussion two weeks prior, sustained another concussion and was removed from the game. Manning kept fighting but his efforts just weren’t enough.
After some nice stops on early downs, and even a sack by Freeney, the Colts relinquished big plays. The Pats went up 28-14 on a 36-yard run by Danny Woodhead, a short, strong back who seems to be invisible while in the backfield, and have grease on his uniform once he’s at full speed.
Still with a glimmer of hope, Manning threw yet another interception on what looks to have been tricky coverage scheme by Belichick. The Colts held the Pats to a FG, and Manning led yet another masterful drive to close the gap to 31-21. Finally, the defense held and Manning led the team down for another touchdown to Blair White. This was starting to play out much like last year’s instant classic, except that the defense held on a 3rd and 7… there was no controversial call for Belichick to call this time. The Pats punted and the Colts started from their own 26 with all timeouts and the 2 minute warning to help stop the clock. With a first down at the NE 24, Manning felt the pressure and threw toward Garcon off his back foot… into the waiting arms of James Sanders.
Honestly I am still proud of how the Colts fought back, and not terribly upset about this loss. Think about how depleted the team is right now, and how difficult it is to win in Foxboro – to be within striking distance is certainly maddening, but it wasn’t the complete beat-down I was expecting. This team is definitely capable of matching up to the Chargers and Cowboys in the next two weeks.
Another reason to take solace: the Colts still have a very good shot at winning the AFC South. Although the Jags won to take the 1/2 game lead (on head-to-head with the Colts), both the Titans and Texans lost to remain 1 and 2 games behind, respectively. Further, it appears that there is now a QB controversy brewing in Nashville; even Randy Moss allegedly uttered, “What have I gotten myself into here… this place is crazy.”