Monday, November 17, 2014

Patriots ride running game, Gronkowski in rout of Colts

New England Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski got the best of the Colts' Sergio Brown on Sunday night.
Everyone knows that Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football.

No need to qualify that statement with the "arguably" clause, because there is no argument to be had -and when the New England Patriots invaded Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday night, all 67,000 fans in attendance and millions more in the national television audience saw plenty enough evidence to justify that claim.

The Indianapolis Colts got a closer look than they probably wanted.

Gronkowski was part of a run blocking scheme that overpowered the Colts' run defense all night, while also asserting his will over their pass defense, swatting away defenders like they were flies as he rumbled 26 yards for the game's final points, his Patriots bullying the the Colts as if they were playground weaklings, the 42-20 final score giving New England firm control of the American Football Conference.

Gronkowski even got a measure of revenge in the win, engaging in a ferocious block against safety Sergio Brown - the man who broke the man-child's arm two years ago during a try for point after a touchdown - driving him off of the field of play and into a camera cart well out of bounds after running back Jonas Gray has scored his fourth touchdown of the evening - the fifteen yard unsportsman like conduct penalty and probable fine from the league a small price to pay for true retribution.

"He was just yappin' at me the whole time" Gronkowski explained, "so I took him and threw him out of the club."

The Patriots have now beaten the other three AFC division leaders, including the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals in addition to Sunday night's thrashing of the Colts, blowing out all three and now holding the head-to-head tiebreaker on virtually every contender in the conference - and if that isn't enough to scare the rest of the teams in the NFL, the fact that the defense shut down the top scoring club in the league should be...
Jonas Gray celebrates one of his four touchdown runs

...not to mention that quarterback Tom Brady was merely ordinary in the first half, looking frazzled and making a couple of bad decisions that ended up in the hands of Colts' defenders, and that the running game more than picked up his slack.

But once Brady got those couple of bad throws out of his system, the Patriots' offense was unstoppable - especially considering that of New England's eleven possessions in the game, they scored six touchdowns, ran out the clock in both halves on two other possessions and were forced to punt just once.

Despite his shaky start, Brady ended up going 19 of 30 for 257 yards and two scores - one to tight end Tim Wright and the other to Gronkowski - but it was really what the Patriots did on the ground that defined this win, and along with the defense allowing a scant 1.1 yards per Colts' rush, perhaps defines the team as a whole.

Forget Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck throwing for 300 yards, and instead remember that he was Indianapolis's leading rusher with 15 yards on three desperate scrambles, while his running backs split 14 carries right down the middle, for a grand total of four yards - and that's around 5 inches per carry for those keeping score.

Luck's 303 yards were hollow, given the fact that nearly all of those were provided by tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Reggie Wayne, as Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick's game plan to stop the run and keep the ball out of the hands of the Colt's dangerous speedster T.Y. Hilton worked to perfection, and left Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano reaching for answers.

"We felt like going in that we could, we knew we had to run it and stop it, and we did neither" Pagano said, shaking his head sadly. "I think they finished with at least 250 yards on the ground. Anytime that happens, you're going to get beat like we got beat today."

Gray scored on four short downhill bursts, his 199 rushing yards more a matter of the New England offensive line exerting their will and Gray hitting the hole hard than any indictment toward the Colts' defense, who entered the game in the top half of the league in run defense but left with a rash of fresh teeth marks.

"They were picking me up after each play" Gray said of the linemen after the game, "picking me up off the ground, telling me 'good run', giving me little pointers here and there, what they wanted me to do, a lot of communication up front and guys just doing their jobs."

How dominant was the New England ground game?  Of the 33 first downs created by the Patriots' offense, 17 of those came courtesy of the run between the tackles - as many as the Colts had combined all evening.

"We didn't stop the run." Colts' safety Mike Adams sighed. "Especially on first down which makes it a short third down. It was like third-and-two, third-and-three like six or seven times. We can't put ourselves in that hole."

But they did, and now the Colts have an even bigger hole to climb out of, that being two games behind New England and down the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Patriots that essentially puts them three games down with six games left to play.  But all hope is not lost for a top seed in the AFC as the Colts sit just a game back of the struggling Denver Broncos, though the Broncos also hold a head-to-head tie breaker over them.

"We all knew Denver lost" Adams continued, referring to the Broncos' loss earlier in the day that dropped them to 7-3 and just a half game up on Indianapolis for the second seed in the conference. "I can't speak for anyone else, but we needed this game.  We needed it bad."

The loss dropped the Colts to 6-4 and suddenly into a dogfight in the AFC South with the surging Houston Texans, so while the loss prevented Indianapolis from positioning themselves for the second seed in the conference, more importantly it has allowed the Texans to climb back into contention for the division title.

Gronkowski and the rest of the Patriots' pass catchers got off to a slow start against the hometown Colts - not because of anything Indianapolis was doing but mostly because the Patriots' running game was in full steamroller mode and tearing off nearly six yards every time quarterback Tom Brady turned to hand the ball off... those paying attention had to settle for watching the Patriots' excellent offensive line run block for running back Jonas Gray, who was in control of said steamroller and was punishing Colts' defenders like they were treehuggers defending the rain forest against urban sprawl - but once the running game had asserted its dominance over their foe and the defense had gotten the best of Luck and his weapons, the Patriots stood at 8-2 with another division leader on their horizon, a showdown with the NFC North leading Detroit Lions next Sunday.

After that they get that division's co-leading Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, so the next couple of weeks feature two high powered offenses and stout run defenses that will put New England's rolling juggernaut to a stern test, particularly the Packers, who are scoring points at a breakneck pace and trampled the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

That said, if there is a more complete team in the National Football League, they are going to have to beat the Patriots to prove it.

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