Last night was about opportunity.
No, maybe not the same kind of opportunity that existed for the better part of a decade, when the Colts and Patriots were the class of the AFC. Not the same kind of opportunity that was available last year, when both teams were undefeated heading into their prime-time showdown.
Last night was about a different opportunity. For the Patriots, it was the opportunity to grab sole possession of first place in the suddenly resurgent AFC East. For the Colts, it was the opportunity to get back to .500 and keep their postseason hopes alive.
The Colts simply took advantage of this opportunity, while the Patriots let it slip through their grasp.
Anyone who knows football knew that last night's game would not be a barn burner. I wrote last week that this game was going to be Matt Cassel's biggest test as a Patriot thus far, and it ended up being an underwhelming performance by the most famous backup in New England history.
The Patriots and the Colts' defensive backfield have been ravaged by injury, the Colts went deep to expose the Pats' zone D, and the Patriots tried to dink and dunk their way to another victory, to no avail. To win this game, the Patriots were going to have to make a series of stops and take the pressure off of Matt Cassel.
The game started with both teams trading three-and-outs, a good sign for both defenses. However the Colts regrouped on the sideline and exposed the Patriots' lack of coverage over the middle, marching down the field for a 91 yard, nine-minute drive that culminated in a 12-yard touchdown pass to former Ohio State Buckeye Anthony Gonzalez.
The Patriots were able to manage a pair of field goals and were down 7-6 at halftime. After the break, fourth-string running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on a six-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 12-7 lead. Coach Belichick elected to go for two, but Kevin Faulk was ruled down before reaching the goal line, even though the ball was clearly past the line.
Late in the game, with the Patriots' threatening, Matt Cassel finally found a deep opening, and threw a strike down the left sideline to Jabar Gaffney, who pulled a Reche Caldwell and let a sure touchdown literally slip through his fingers. The Patriots were not done making mistakes, however.
With the score tied at 15, the Patriots' were setting up to take the lead when after the whistle on a third down conversion, David Thomas was called for a dead ball foul, taking the Patriots out of field-goal range. Matt Cassel was then picked off, and old friend Adam Vinatieri made a field goal to put the Colts up for good.
What upset me, however, was afterwards, when the Patriots tried to get in field-goal range. Cassel threw the ball deep now that the game was on the line but was unable to even find the area code that his receivers were in. Hey, maybe if they practiced throwing the deep ball more and actually used it in game scenarios, it wouldn't be so hard to do at the end of a game.
So the Patriots are 5-3, now locked in a three-team tie for first place with the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets, with the Miami Dolphins right behind at 4-4. The Colts improve to 5-4 and very much keep their playoff hopes alive.
I'm upset at David Thomas; I'm upset at Jabar Gaffney; but I blame the coaching staff for this loss. What happened to these guys? I, for one, am disturbed at this team's inability to call plays for their playmakers, namely Randy Moss.
Look, Welker gets his catches each game, but Moss is barely even targeted. He didn't get a ball thrown his way until the second half for crying out loud!
I also have a beef with the Patriots' playcalling, early in the game running it on third and long twice to be specific. Also, can we stop with this wildcat formation nonsense? Why does every team have to use it now? It doesn't work, and the short passes are too easy to snuff out, as we saw last night.
All I know is that the Patriots had best devise some sort of plan to get Moss open. Yeah, I know..."He's in double coverage, with a safety coming over the top," but there are ways to get him open, motion Faulk into the slot right next to him and make the safety decide which to cover.
These dink-and-dunk passes are going to be snuffed out sooner rather than later, because as seen this season, this is all we have on offense other than the running game.
Where is the creativity? Where is the surprise? If a linebacker knows that a play is either going to be a 10 yard pass or a run, then why pay attention to the deep threats? This is exactly why the Pats should take advantage of Randy Moss and his presence on the football field.
I fully expect to see a completely different gameplan come Sunday, and it would be nice to have Sammy Morris and/or LaMont Jordan back as well.
Opportunity knocked, but the Colts were the ones who answered the door.
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