EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 12, 2014

Nameless, faceless and fabulous

New England defense takes Luck out of the equation at Foxboro

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

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FOXBORO — The blue-chip Colt, bred to succeed and conquer with an amazing big-money contract in hand just got dusted by a stable full of nameless plow horses.

Andrew Luck, with all his hype and the amazing comeback over Kansas City a week ago, found out exactly what it takes to win in the NFL come January.

No-names like Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Logan Ryan and Jamie Collins delivered the lesson. It was as proud a night as we’ve had here for Patriots’ football backers, especially on the defensive side.

Four times the Pats picked off Luck. Twice, they set up easy Patriots TDs, deep in Indy territory. The third, by Dont’a Hightower of all people, turned the Colts away in Pats’ territory at a time where a field goal made it a one-possession game.

Gone, forever we hope, is the bend-but-not-break Patriots defense. Guys like Siliga, signed off the scrap heap just weeks ago, little Joe Vellano, beleaguered Steve Gregory, bewildered Logan Ryan and oft-toasted Alfonzo Dennard shackled Andrew Luck and dictated terms.

The Colts, who ripped up Kansas City’s No. 5 defense a week ago, managed a pair of TD bombs from the shell-shocked Luck.

Ask Bill Belichick yourself. He saw Luck a year ago here, as we all did, locking on to one receiver and attempting to jam it in. Yes, he burned the Pats a time or two. The kid has an incredible hose for an arm. And when he breaks the pocket, his ability to drop the ball on a dime 30 yards downfield while on the run might be better than anyone whose walked this planet not named Elway.

But to quote the stat man here in the press box above Gillette: Interceptions ... Patriots zero ... Colts four. Make that seven picks in the last two weeks for Luck.

Only this time there was no miracle comeback. No miracle because your Patriots’ defense said “No!”

It’s the first time in at least six or seven years that a Patriots’ defense dictated terms.

The previous names were recognizable and feared — Seymour, Harrison, Vrabel, Bruschi, McGinest, and the list rolls on.

Not this bunch. Chandler Jones might be held in that esteem some day. And potentially Jamie Collins, who allowed and asked to come forward and attack the box last night. He was a monster, with a performance to build on.

But the rest — a bunch of cast-offs and journeymen. And they delivered with the spotlight at or near its brightest with the entire nation watching, two rounds from the Super Bowl.

Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes were three of your top defenders when this season started. They are now memories.

“We had two bad plays there (Luck’s two touchdowns) and we’re battling there with them every play” said Belichick. “They made some plays. We did too. Turning the ball over, that was huge.”

Sorry coach, but it was the football game.

The Pats made all the big plays on defense. It wasn’t about hoping the Colts mess up. It was about turning a game around by stepping up.

Hightower was left for dead in this defense by some at midseason. There he is last night, stuffing runs on a night when the Colts average per carry was 3.3 yards.

Collins flew all over the field. Huge sack. Two tackles for loss and three QB hits.

It was an amazing Renaissance for this group that up until tonight had shown little reason to be trusted.

Can they keep it up two more weeks? We shall see. But for now, it feels like a new era for the Pats could be beginning.

And it all started with a handful of JAGs on this defense.