By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots earned their second consecutive win on the road by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 34-27 Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. The victory improved New England’s record to 5-0, one-half game ahead of the 4-1 New York Jets for first place in the AFC East. This sets up a big game against the Jets at Gillette Stadium next week. Six weeks into the 2015 NFL season, the Patriots are one of five teams in the league that remain undefeated (Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers).
On offense, the Patriots didn’t look as explosive as they have in previous weeks, but they still performed well from a statistical standpoint. Quarterback Tom Brady threw a pick six for his first interception of the season, but he also threw for three touchdowns and 312 yards. Running back LeGarrette Blount was a force in the running game, gaining 5.8 yards per rush on 16 carries, including an impressive 38-yard touchdown run. Blount also added an 11-yard touchdown reception.
In a surprising development, New England’s leading receiver was Danny Amendola, who caught seven passes for 105 yards. Wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski caught one touchdown pass apiece, but Edelman dropped several passes (perhaps related to a finger injury he appeared to suffer during the game) and Gronkowski was completely shut out in the first half before making three catches in the second half.
Early in the game, the New England defense looked porous, as it gave up 21 points in the first half, including a 13-play, 89-yard drive on the Colts’ first possession of the game. However, the unit looked solid in the second half, not giving up a score until a late Indianapolis comeback attempt resulted in a touchdown pass with 1:44 remaining in the game. Defensive end Chandler Jones was a standout player for New England, getting two-and-a-half sacks.
In the past, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck has experienced a great deal of difficulty making plays against the New England defense, but he had more success on Sunday due to the addition of former Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and the development of second-year wide receiver Donte Moncrief. This allowed Luck to not be so dependent on his #1 receiver, T.Y. Hilton. The receiving trio caught 15 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots.
Special Teams: B+
The biggest play for the New England special teams came on a punt by Ryan Allen in the third quarter. After receiving the snap from the New England 17-yard line, Allen made a 56-yard punt to the Indianapolis 27-yard line, where pressure on the punt returner from gunner Matthew Slater forced an illegal block by the Colts. Indianapolis was forced to start its drive from its own 19 yard line.
Another notable play on special team was a blocked extra point by linebacker Jamie Collins. Timing the snap perfectly, Collins hurdled Indianapolis long snapper Matt Overton to block the attempt by former Patriots place kicker Adam Vinatieri.
New England’s return game was less successful, as the Patriots gained only nine yards in return yardage. A 36-yard punt return by Edelman was negated by an illegal block by safety Devin McCourty. New England also nearly lost a surprise onside kick by Indianapolis in the first half. Although Moncrief emerged from the pile with the ball, officials ruled the loose ball was recovered by offensive lineman Josh Kline. The call was upheld after a challenger by the Colts.
Even though New England struggled on defense in the first half, the use of Collins as a spy on Luck was surprisingly effective. Although Luck did break off a 25-yard run late in the game, Collins kept him from scrambling too often. Collins was also successful in disrupting crossing routes whenever receivers came over the middle. New England also gave Luck some unfamiliar looks, such as using McCourty at cornerback on occasion (although he did pick up a pass interference call in this role). On offense, 25 rushing attempts helped keep some pressure off of Brady.
Even though the Patriots are currently undefeated, a loss next week would put the Jets into first place in the AFC East, so expect the Jets to be particularly motivated. However, four of the next five games for New England will be at Gillette Stadium, so the Patriots have a huge opportunity to put some significant distance between themselves and the rest of the division.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.