Forgive me if I ramble at times. I'm working on four hours of sleep. I got back home about 12 hours ago and simply couldn't sleep. Normally, I have the basis of a column worked out toward the end of the game. With the Colts trailing 31-14 after Randy Moss caught his second touchdown from Tom Brady, I had a pretty good idea of what a majority of my questions would be about. By the time the frantic fourth quarter ended, I was left with on one question.
10. What the heck was Bill Belichick thinking by going for it on fourth down from his own 28?
I have a friend that does this type of silly stuff playing the video game Madden. Once he's down, he'll go for it no matter where he is on the field. Might explain why he has a lifetime record of something like 6-389.
As for Belichick? It's inexcusable. I'm trying to think of any scenario where it would be acceptable to go for it when your team has the lead. I can't think of one.
Think about all the reasons they should have kicked.
Yes, Peyton Manning had lead the Colts on two touchdown drives in the quarter, but Manning had hardly looked Manning-esque for most of the game.
The Patriots defense had played decently well the whole game. Manning had found holes at times, but also was forced into horribly bad decisions at other times.
In his post game press conference, Belichick talked about how he thought they could get the yard. Maybe that was his problem. The Patriots needed two yards, not one. The play he called did get one yard. So, theoretically, he succeeded.
Seriously, though, Belichick should know that converting the two yards was not a certainty. In fact, the Patriots had just dodged a bullet on the previous play. Brady was nearly picked off trying to hit Wes Welker on a quick out. Belichick should have seen it as a sign to play it safe, and not try for the conversion against a defense that was playing with emotion and emergency.
Instead, Belichick gambled and lost.
9. Can just one play have a lasting impact?
It sure can.
What bothers me the most about the decision is the message it sends to the Pats' defense.
Sure, Brady defended Belichick. He commented on how much he likes his coach being aggressive. There are some that have defended Belichick for challenging his offense to win the game.
But what did the defense take away from this? Belichick essentially told them "you can't win this." I'm sure they'll be a lot of team speak in the wake of the loss, but don't forget that this is a young Patriot defense. There's bound to be some mental baggage.
There was also a huge impact on the Colts defense. The defense was abused in the first half, but played significantly better in the second.
Still, the Patriots' fourth down attempt was seen as a sign of disrespect to the Colts' defenders. A lot of credit for the win has to go to safety Melvin Bullitt, whose hit on Kevin Faulk gave Manning and the offense a chance to win.
The standings may be where the call ends up hurting the most. Home field advantage in the playoffs is probably a pipe dream now. The Patriots will need a strong finish to try to earn the second seed. If the teams meet again, it'll definitely help the Colts if the game is in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Finally, the one person that may feel the least long term affect is the guy who made the guy. If Lovie Smith or Rex Ryan had made this call, there's a good chance they'd be unemployed in the near future, but Belichick has such an impressive resume as a coach it's likely this play will be nothing more than a footnote on his career. Albeit a very bad one.
8. Let's look at the first half. New England, at one time, held a 24-7 lead. What was the Patriots' offense doing to expose the Colts' passing defense?
The game plan for the Patriots was to obviously spread the Colts out and try to expose gaps in the cover two system. It worked, primarily, because the Colts defensive backs failed to make adjustments.
On Moss' first big catch, Moss had lined up in the slot. He had a free release because there wasn't a defensive back lined up opposite him.
Several times throughout the game, a Patriot receiver went in motion. Often, the Colts' nickel defender would be set for a blitz and that would leave the motioned receiver on a linebacker. The Patriots exploited this, and Brady carved up the secondary. It helped that the combo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis was held in check during much of the game's first 30 minutes.
7. Why were the Colts unable to keep pace offensively?
The Colts looked sharp on an early drive that resulted in the game's opening touchdown. After that, the offense got completely out of sync.
At first, it was the Colts' young receivers that struggled. Pierre Garcon caught just one of the five passes targeted to him during the first half. Austin Collie dropped what was sure to be a decent gain.
It didn't take long for the erratic play to spread around the offense. Manning would look good on one pass, then one hop the next. Dallas Clark's production evaporated for half the game. He had only one pass thrown his way the entire second quarter even though the Patriots weren't doing anything special to take him out of the game.
When the Colts did show signs of life, it was because Manning would hook up with Reggie Wayne. The 20 yard strike to Wayne late in the second quarter kept the Colts alive.
6. What about adjustments going into the second half? What happened to the Patriots offensively in the third quarter?
If the Patriots made a mistake in their game plan, it was letting their foot off the gas in the second half. The Patriots seemed content to go back to the draw play and short passes in an attempt to control the clock. They still spread the field, but not nearly as much as they did in the first half.
The Colts' defense also stiffened quite a bit in the second half to prevent the Patriots from scoring a decisive blow.
First, Antoine Bethea picked off Brady in the end zone. Uncharacteristically, Brady stared down Moss on a post route. In the replay, Bethea can be seen breaking on the ball before Brady releases it.
Next, impressive young linebacker Philip Wheeler striped Laurence Maroney a yard out from the end zone. The ball bounced into the end zone and was recovered by Gary Brackett.
The third quarter was a series of missed chances for the Patriots. They didn't look as sharp as they did in the first place, but more importantly, they weren't nearly as fluid as they were earlier in the game. Had the Patriots scored just once in the third quarter, then the miracle ending may never have happened.
Even though they failed to score, the Patriots did dominate time of possession in the third, which limited the Colts' opportunities.
5. Why couldn't the Colts capitalize on the Patriots' third quarter mistakes?
The third quarter was the low point for the Colts offense. Only twice did they get the ball. Their first possession was killed when the ball seemed to slip out of Manning's hand. It floated and was easily picked off by Leigh Bodden.
The second drive never got into a rhythm. The Colts were forced to punt and that set up what looked to be the final nail in the coffin.
4. Welker's return set up New England's last touchdown. At this point, who was the main Colts killer?
When most people think of the Patriots, they think of Brady, Moss, and Welker.
Brady is Brady. He seems cool under fire. I thought he played a very good game, but I also thought he missed some opportunities when the Colts seemed out of position. Any quarterback can put up decent numbers if given the time. A player of Brady's quality can kill you, which is what he did for most of the game. He wasn't the difference though.
Welker, in my opinion, may be one of the league's most overrated wide receivers. Only once did Welker make a quality play, which was the punt return setting up the last of the Patriots' touchdowns. But even that play was helped by a missed holding call (which was probably the only bad call on what was a really well officiated game otherwise).
Welker's game plan is simply find a spot in the zone and get open. Welker is a quality, consistent receiver, but he's not the superstar he's hyped to be.
That's because the real superstar on this team is Randy Moss.
As good as Brady was, it was Moss that made the Patriots go. Often it was Moss, not Welker, that Brady would go to on a key play. Moss did it all. He went deep. He went over the middle. He caught key third down plays. Both of his touchdowns were classic Moss. The first was simply out muscling Bethea for the ball before going into the end zone.
The second was a jump ball that only Moss could catch. That play gave the Patriots what seemed to be an insurmountable 31-14 lead.
3. What prompted the comeback?
At first, I thought the Patriots had simply decided to play vanilla defense, but after seeing several replays I don't think the Patriots changed what they did much, though they did drop their safeties a little deeper than usual.
That helped the Colts finally establish enough of a running game to keep New England guessing. From there, Manning entered his fourth quarter mode we've seen out of him in recent weeks. His lone mistake, an interception trying to hit Wayne deep, was caused by miscommunication more than a mere pass by Manning.
Seemingly feeding off Manning's energy, the offense came alive. Garcon and Collie, who looked frighteningly inexperienced early on, each came up with big plays. Clark finally ended his catching drought, and Wayne continued coming up big when needed.
The Patriots managed a lone field goal after the Manning interception, but it was mostly the Colts that dominated the fourth quarter.
2. After the failed fourth down conversion, what was the key to snatching the win from the Patriots?
Once the Patriots failed to secure the first down, I don't think anyone in the building doubted that the Colts would score a touchdown. The big question is how much time would be left for Brady to create some heroics of his own.
The impressive part of the drive was the clock management. The Colts didn't score too soon. They ran the ball. They were patient. By the time Wayne made a fabulous finger tip catch to tie the game, the Patriots had only 13 seconds to respond. Matt Stover's extra point would seal the win.
1. Both teams seem like the class of the AFC. Would a rematch be any different?
A lot was said about how the Patriots could have easy had a 48-14 lead had the ball bounced a little differently. While that is true, I am certain that a rematch of these teams would produce the same result, another close game. Both teams will undoubtedly adjust some things from this game. The Colts' youngsters wouldn't play nearly as hesitantly next time around. Belichick may even play it more conservatively.
In the end, I'm sure a lot of people are hoping for a rematch. It'll be hard to top this game though, which will surely be remembered as the game of the year.