Not many expected former Kent State quarterback turned wide receiver Julian Edleman to outduel the Colt’s rising rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. But that is exactly what happened on Sunday.
Edlemen’s rise up the depth chart, after the departure of wide receiver Deion Branch earlier this week, came at the right time. He finished strong with 5 catches for 58 yards, 1 rush for 47 yards, 1 receiving touchdown and 1 sixty-eight yard punt that sparked the Patriot’s 38-3 run from the second quarter until the beginning of the fourth.
Sunday's victory marked a number of accomplishments for the Patriots. It was the first time, since the mid 1980s, that they scored a touchdown off a punt and an interception in the same game. It was their first game since 2002 that they ran back two interceptions for touchdowns. Finally, it was only the 3rd time in Belichick’s tenure that his team has scored 3 non-offensive touchdowns.
This game began much like the others for the Patriots. The Colts won the toss, elected to receive and quickly marched 80 yards on 7 plays to score the game’s first touchdown. Cornerback Kyle Arrington was flagged for pass interference on a 46-yard heave from Luck to receiver Donnie Avery to set up the score. To help settle the secondary, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard quickly replaced the struggling Arrington in the team’s base defense.
This game had the early makings of a shoot out, as both teams traded touchdowns to tie the game at 14 apiece. However, New England reset the game’s tone after Edleman returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, newcomer Aqib Talib’s intercepted Luck's pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown and Indianapolis failed to score prior to the half as a result of poor clock management.
The Patriots would then never look back.
New England managed a tough 115 yards on the ground, splitting the carries between running backs Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley, but they hardly established a consistent ground attack. As a result, Tom Brady led the way for his 51st career game throwing 300 + yards and his 42nd career game with at least one touchdown. He finished with 331 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Wes Welker’s contributions to the Patriot’s victory were obvious. Gronknowski, who started the year slow due to nagging injuries, has quickly regained his status as the league’s most dangerous tight end. His 2nd touchdown marked the third time in 3 years he has scored 10 + touchdowns--he is the first tight end in NFL history to accomplish such a feat.
(However, prior to this article’s posting Rob Gronkowski had been diagnosed with a broken forearm; thus, his status for future games is unclear. Certainly, this comes as a significant blow to an offensive unit the team relies on heavily.)
The Patriot's early struggles on defense gradually improved. To begin, they were susceptible to the run—a recent trend—and the usual long pass over 10 yards. Luck still managed to convert 60% of his offense’s third downs and he racked up 300 yards passing, but the Patriots overcame early struggles and returned two interceptions for a touchdown, as well as pressured Luck enough to disrupt his timing.
This rivalry may be young, but the Patriots looked like their old selves, flexing their muscles and dominating an inferior opponent. Two years in a row the Patriots have run the table from mid-November to the end of the regular season. The Colts might have just been in their way.
The Patriots travel to face Rex Ryan's Jets on Thanksgiving night, 8:20 PM EST.