Divisional Playoff
January 16, 2005
Colts vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 20-3
By Scott A. Benson

First, a few words to all the mediots, national and otherwise, who spent this week hysterically shrieking about the superiority – nay, the sheer inevitability – of Peyton Manning and the not-to-be-denied Colts.

In the inimitable words of Coach Bill Belichick, go blank yourself.

I mean, really. How many times must we add 2 and 2 before you値l finally acknowledge the correct answer is always 4?

Well, how about you mooks try to wrap your thick heads around this: 276 total yards for your all-world Colts offense. 238 yards passing and no touchdowns for your precious, unstoppable Hall of Fame quarterback. Three lousy, stinking points. THREE.

And Ty Law was nowhere in sight. Neither was Tyrone Poole, or Richard Seymour. How could this be? It must be a miracle!

Nope. Business as usual here in the snowy (heh, heh) home of the two-time Super Bowl champions.

Unless you池e as lame brained as Gerry Callahan and Ron Borges, you knew all along that the well-balanced, strong of heart New England Patriots would once again assert their own brand of superiority � the actual kind – and humiliate the Colts in an AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium by a not-as-close-as-it-sounds score of 20-3.

The Patriots killed the Colts. Indianapolis, for all their hype, for all their bootlicking media man servants, had one chance to make a game of it, way back in the second quarter, and had to settle for a field goal. Otherwise, the Patriots controlled the affair start to finish. The outcome, and the hilarious futility of yet another Colts hothouse flower season, was never in doubt.

Though the offense controlled the ball a full quarter longer than the Indianapolis, and hammered out three crucial drives that sealed the game, this one was all about the Patriots defense.

They deployed pass defenders across the expanse of Gillette Stadium, frustrating Manning from the opening gun. Never were the Colts able to hit the kind of pass plays that have, as it turns out, needlessly filled so many ESPN highlight packages. The rest of the football world knows Peyton Manning as a cerebral giant, a sort of football Deep Blue; but in New England, we know him as the lost ninny wandering along Route 1, shaking his head, forever trying to find his lost keys.

But it was far more than a chess match of crafty, well-executed coverages. It was about punching the other guy in the mouth, too, and (surprise!) the Patriots defense carried off this part of the game plan to perfection, once again. For example, they were having none of Edgerrin James and the Colts running game. As a result, yet another of Peyton痴 層eapons� was as neutered as Bob Barker痴 housecat.

And check those gaudy yards-after-catch numbers on the mighty Colts receivers � when you get tackled in New England, you nancies, you stay tackled.

All week long, prognosticators far and wide (including a particularly addled one who took the time to leave a thoughtful message on my answering machine) buffed Classy Tony Dungy and the Colts to a fine sheen. Cock-sure experts scoffed at the thought that anyone could stop Indianapolis, much less the depleted Patriots. Sure, the Patriots had owned the Colts at every turn over the last five seasons, but that was all meaningless this time, in Cryin� Bill Polian痴 new NFL. Indianapolis, finally freed from the Patriots illegal defensive tactics, would surely roll.

How could they be so stupid? This Patriots team is more than names and numbers on a depth chart, more than statistics on a score sheet, more than All-Pro votes and individual awards. It痴 not the depth of their roster that counts, though no one is deeper than New England. It痴 the depth of their hearts, of their minds, of their souls. Here, their depth is truly unmatched. Time and time and time again.

Simply put, the New England Patriots are in the business of acquiring tough, talented, hard-working, humble and hungry lions, and then turning them over to one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled. What comes out in the end is not easily deterred by the latest Next Big Thing.

But why is this always such a surprise to these clucking media boneheads? For crying out loud, entire books have been written on the subject of what makes New England the best team in the league. Maybe you fools ought to drop your axes and your phony premeditated arguments for five minutes and pick up a copy. You might learn something, like to never underestimate the world champion Patriots.

In the meantime, though, by all means, go blank yourself.

Patriots on Offense

Three extended drives, one in each of the final three quarters, were all it took to ice this one in a snowy scene eerily reminiscent of last January痴 AFC Championship Game. Once again the Colts shallow, underachieving wunderkinds were given a first-hand lesson in how a real offense, one with substance and spirit, scores points when it really counts.

Between you and me, I doubt they were paying attention. I think instead of hiking up their thongs and getting down to work, they値l pursue a rule change of some kind. That痴 how they do things down there.

The Pats offense struggled through a scoreless first quarter, yet to their credit, they played the possession and field position game to perfection. Manning痴 best starting position through his first three possessions was his own 27.

Then, with about five minutes left in the first quarter, the Patriots began the game痴 first scoring drive. From their own 16, they soon gained midfield behind the clench fisted running of Corey Dillon and the surprising sprints of the returning Kevin Faulk, he of the season-ending knee injury. Then, after the Colts forced a third and five at their own 46, it was Tom Brady once again doing what he does best. His clutch third down conversions to David Patten and David Givens drove the ball inside the Indianapolis 10 and set up a short touchdown plunge by Dillon.

Maddeningly, Matt Light痴 false start nullified the TD, and the Pats had to settle for a 24 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. Still, the point had been clearly made. The Pats had body-punched their way to 78 yards and a score in just over nine minutes.

Soon after, they added another field goal with a relatively quick and short (48 yards in 1:26) drive, extending their lead to six points. The Colts knocked that back to three just before the half with what turned out to be their most successful possession of the game.

For all of New England痴 first half dominance, they had but a tiny lead that could have been eclipsed by one quick Indianapolis strike (as ridiculous as that notion seems, in retrospect). So with nearly ten minutes still remaining in the third quarter, the Patriots needed a touchdown.

Naturally, they got it, and again it was Dillon and Faulk who carried the load. From their own 13, they rang up five first downs and ground more than eight precious minutes off the clock. Though the two backs keyed the drive, Brady hit big passes to Christian Fauria (a 17 yarder on 2nd and 11) and Patrick Pass (a 14 yarder on 3rd and 3) before finding Givens again, this time for a five yard touchdown on 3rd and goal.

That left the Pats with a 10 point lead with just over 16 minutes remaining. The Colts, as they say, were DONE. But leaving nothing to chance, the Pats again regained the ball after a quick fourth quarter stop by the defense, and added the cherry to this Sunday with a 94 yard touchdown drive that drained even more sand (7:24) from the Colts� hourglass. This time, it was Brady himself that capped the drive, plunging for a one yard score behind the stalwart left side of the Patriots line.

Two big plays highlighted this final nail in the Colts coffin. The biggest was an 11 yard reception from Faulk on 3rd and 10 from the Patriots 6 yard line. With the Colts offense hoping for a stop that would likely leave them 10 points down and the ball at midfield, Brady found a tightly covered Faulk just over the yellow marker, and the invaluable veteran held on after momentarily bobbling the ball and taking a sharp hit from Indy痴 Bob Sanders. The Colts offense dejectedly returned to their heated benches.

Then, after a mix of run and pass drove the Pats inside Indy痴 30, it was Dillon with his second long run of the day (a 44 yard second quarter sprint had set up Vinatieri痴 second field goal). On a 3rd and 8, Dillon took a handoff and drove to his left, through the center of the Colts staggering defense, and went 27 will-crushing yards before being pushed out at the Indy 1. Brady痴 score on the following play felt like little more than a formality.

Dillon is nothing less than the team痴 offensive MVP. In his first ever playoff game, he ran for 144 yards and a 6.2 average. He is the football equivalent of the heart punch. Cincinnati has to be a foggy memory by now.

Brady痴 final numbers won稚 turn any heads (144 yards), but let痴 just be reasonable from now on and admit that when the discussion turns to NFL quarterbacks, we start with Tom Brady and work our way down. His clear, cool thinking, combined with his propensity for being at his best when it is most needed, puts him at a level that Peyton Manning can only dream about.

Faulk, as he has been through much of his career, was spectacular when it counted the most. Along with his crucial third down reception, he added 56 rushing yards on just 11 carries. Those who vividly recalled his agonized screams on the sidelines of Pro Player Stadium just a month ago had to be shaking their heads in amazement. They should have been.

The offensive line yielded three sacks, none of which amounted to a damn thing. Rather, we should celebrate their consistent pocket around Brady and their complete physical dominance of Indy痴 puny, no account defense. The Pats finished with over 200 yards on the ground.

Patriots on Defense

The snow that swirled about Gillette as CBS came on the air was certainly a welcome sight for Patriots fans, who know what shrinking violets the Colts can be when they池e not safely tucked in their greenhouse.

Yet it was not nearly as welcome as the sight of the Patriots defense once again stuffing the ball, and the Colts nonsensical Super Bowl hopes, straight down the throats of the dandified Indianapolis offense.

It began at the start. The Colts won the opening toss and confidently strode on the field, their successes against that gritty, unbending Denver Broncos defense no doubt still fresh in their minds.

They didn稚 hold the ball for two minutes before punting it away. Randall Gay痴 sure tackle on a 3rd down catch by Marcus 践and Us the Rings� Pollard forced an immediate Colts punt.

It didn稚 get any better for the Colts on their next possession. Amusingly, it was a drop by the fearsome Dallas Clark � he of the whopping 25 regular season catches � that led to Indy痴 second 3 and out. I知 sure that those who forecasted Clark痴 supremacy at least expected him to be able to catch the ball.

The Pats� dominance continued unabated throughout most of the first half, thanks to a suffocating pass defense and a well-honed nose for the football. With New England leading by six in the 2nd quarter, the Colts moved the ball into Patriots territory, yet were once again stunted when Tedy Bruschi sniffed out a screen to Dominic Rhodes. The brainy and brawny Bruschi not only stopped the play for a loss, but he tore the ball from Rhodes� hands as he threw him to the ground. It was the kind of play that only true champions make.

Still, the Patriots were unable to extend their lead, and the Colts regained possession with less than two minutes to play in the half. From his own 28, Manning went to a no huddle offense that moved the ball quickly inside the Patriots 15. Yet here again, New England痴 clear superiority over the Colts was evident. The offense that no one can stop was unable to score a touchdown despite being 1st and 10 from New England痴 12. The Colts were forced to settle for a field goal by Mike Vanderjerk, who now has a full off-season to consider his own ripeness.

However, the Colts had to enter the second half with some optimism, being down by only three after playing their worst offensive half of the season. That痴 what makes the Patriots performance over the game痴 final 30 minutes all the more remarkable.

With their first drive of the 3rd quarter, the almighty Colts offense, freshly buoyed by the success of their two-minute drill, moved the ball exactly 20 yards. With the Pats offense now working in perfect concert with their defensive mates, the Colts didn稚 touch the ball again until there were only 89 seconds left in the period. This time, trailing by 10 and with time running out on their season, they moved it 15 yards.

After watching the Patriots offense rip off the kind of drive that is supposed to be only their dominion, the Colts offense started their third possession of the half at their own 20, down by two touchdowns. They moved it exactly ZERO yards before Reggie Wayne was relieved of the ball by Rodney Harrison, and Bruschi fell on his second fumble recovery of the day. The next (and last) time the Colts touched the ball, it was a moot point, as irrelevant as can be. Naturally, they drove the ball straight up the field. Frauds. It served them right that Harrison spoiled the whole thing with his grab of an entirely predictable Manning interception.

It was again a total team effort by the Patriots. If we had to draw attention to anyone, we would start with the linebackers.

Willie McGinest was a man possessed, charging all over the field in stopping the run and pass. At this point, it would be hard to argue that the Indianapolis Colts have no shot at beating the Patriots as long as McGinest is drawing a NFL breath.

Bruschi, the heart and soul of the entire franchise, had eight tackles to go with his forced fumble and two recoveries. Though the Patriots did little to turn up the pass rush on Manning, choosing instead to blanket the field in coverage, Mike Vrabel continually pushed the Colts pocket and made Manning move side to side, which he clearly hates. Vrabel even had one of his patented reach around strips of the quarterback, though the Colts quickly fell on Manning痴 early fumble.

But in the end, if any member(s) of the Patriots deserve special accolades for the latest in an increasingly long list of inspirational victories, it would be the blatantly disrespected New England secondary, led by Rodney Harrison (a forced fumble, and interception, and 11 tackles).

Let me ask you � did Marvin Harrison even play? Did Reggie Wayne? I ask because I was told that those two would be running wild in Foxboro, what with Ty Law and Tyrone Poole hurt. I was assured of this by some of the region痴 finest football analysts. The Patriots would never be able to stop those immortals with mere mid-round draft choices and street free agents.

If you persist on categorizing players like Asante Samuel (who had one of the day痴 big hits, a knockdown blow) and Randall Gay based on where they were drafted, or how recognizable their names are, then you do so at your own peril. Right now, you look pretty freaking stupid, don稚 you?

Oh, and by the way, Brandon Stokley really wore out Troy Brown, didn稚 he? Shaddup with your Brandon Stokley already.

Patriots on Special Teams

Vinatieri � as is his custom � nailed his two field goal tries, despite the awkward conditions. Most importantly, the Patriots� special teams were masters of the field position game, never allowing a return that shortened the field for the Colts offense. Troy Brown, who has done so many remarkable things this season, was also stellar as a punt returner.

Patriots on the Sidelines

I shudder to think what a lopsided game this would have been had the coaching match-up not been so even.

Bill Belichick is one game from tying Vince Lombardi痴 all-time best playoff record by a NFL head coach. Tony Dungy, who somehow led Tampa Bay to a world championship after being fired the previous season, is light years away from ever being discussed in the same breath as Lombardi.

Patriots Next Week

It is, as it should be. The Patriots get another crack at the Steelers, the one team in the league that had a better regular season than New England, by virtue of their Halloween night drubbing of the defending champs. This time, the Patriots return to Pittsburgh with a score to settle and a third Super Bowl appearance in four years on the line. There痴 something very perfect about that.