EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 22, 2010

The two-minute drill

Hector Longo

BIG SHOWS

1. Jermaine Cunningham — The debate will reign as to whether he truly touched Peyton Manning on James Sanders' clinching interception. He clearly agitated Manning enough to force the biggest play of the season for this young defense. Way to go rookie.

2. Danny Woodhead — He's no longer a gimmick. He's a legit threat. The little guy chewed up 69 yards on seven carries with a 36-yard TD. Added four catches for 21 yards.

3. Deion Branch — When he's done with football, Deion Branch should write a book entitled, "A receiver's guide to shredding Cover 2." When teams play with the two safeties in deep halves, there may not be anyone better at finding the soft spots underneath in the zone, or just by beating man-under coverage with his savvy. Led the way with seven catches for 70 yards.

4. Katherine Doherty — The teen from Andover and Noble & Greenough was on top of her game, ripping off a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that had the Gillette Stadium folks rocking.

NO SHOWS

1. Kyle Arrington — Who put this guy on Reggie Wayne? Even with help from Brandon Meriweather over the top, he allowed Wayne 8 catches for 107 yards and a TD.

2. Jerod Mayo — Now I know the mental midgets calling into radio talk shows will laud Mayo as Superman. Imagine 11 solo tackles. Wow! On those 11 plays, Indy racked up 9, 5, 9, 5, 2, 8, 11, 7, 3, 4 and 8 yards (an average of 6.5 yards per play). Is that good defense? Maybe in Indianapolis, but not here.

3. Tully Banta-Cain — Played the multitude of snaps with little impact at all rushing the QB. Throw in the dumbest 15-yard penalty of the year in the fourth quarter, and yeah, it was a tough day.

GRADING THE GROUPS

Offense

Line (B+) ... Aside from one sick spin and sack from Dwight Freeney and a missed blitz pick up that got Tom Brady plowed over by Keyunta Dawson, it was a productive day up front. Opened holes, or at least shoved the Colts back on running plays. Strong day.

Backs (B+) ... Danny Woodhead flat-out delivers week in and week out. Not going to send BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Hall of Fame after his 96-yard rushing day. He left some yards out there, but was still productive enough.

Receivers (B) ... Tom Brady made life easy for these guys through three quarters, putting the football right where it had to be, open or not. Wes Welker (5-58) and Deion Branch (7-70) are professional gamers. Nothing from Brandon Tate or Julian Edelman, who had a pivotal drop late that opened the door for the Colts' comeback. Quiet day for the tight ends, with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (TD) hauling in one catch apiece.

Quarterback (B) ... For three quarters, it was a perfect score, A+, but Brady and the offense sputtered in the fourth. The "C" there, drops the mark for the day.

Defense

Line (B) ... Take away the flukey 36-yard run and Donald Brown averaged 2.0 yards per carry. There was little pressure on Peyton Manning, but that really wasn't a huge part of the game plan. Vince Wilfork (4 solos) played like a man who was angry about spending much of the night in Pittsburgh on the sidelines. I like Ron Brace (2 solos) as a run-stuffer. I just wish they give him more chances.

Linebackers (C-) ... Again, every Pats sycophant will proclaim Mayo the Magnificent as ruler of this defensive domain. I see him as a sure tackler in the secondary. Brandon Spikes played little, due to the sub-packages. Gary Guyton (6 solos) is Gary Guyton. He's fast and aggressive but often gets fooled. Little from the edge until Jermaine Cunningham exploded in Manning's peripheral vision.

Secondary (C-) ... Brandon Meriweather, Devin McCourty and James Sanders all intercepted absolutely abysmal throws by Peyton Manning. Big props to them for the catches. Nobody can cover. All six guys who played back there got beat at times, and that's going to happen. Manning threw for 396 on them.

Coaching (B) ... The offensive game plan was crisp and creative. For the second straight week, a vanilla defense got carved up by Brady and Co. Bill Belichick may not have dominated Jim Caldwell, but he won the decision decisively on points.

Special teams (B-) ... Does Shayne Graham scare you as much as he scares me? Seriously, little from the return game in kicks or punts. Tate and Edelman just don't really scare you at all right now. Tate's aggressive burst on kick returns is an ancient memory. Outstanding coverage on both, though, forced the Colts into three 10-yard penalties.

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WHY BELICHICK'S BETTER

Compare the defenses yesterday, for just one minute.

Talent-wise, do you want the Colts or the Pats? It's probably a wash. New England has a couple players in Vince Wilfork and Pat Chung. The Colts have Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.

Which coach put his defenders in position to make a difference yesterday, Jim Caldwell or Bill Belichick?

Caldwell ran a 4-man rush all day. He mixed two-deep coverages, some man under, some zone under.

Belichick probed all day, looking for any edge whatsoever. He tried nickel, dime, two, three and four-man fronts. He rolled coverage to Reggie Wayne and backed off him.

He tried anything to confuse Peyton Manning, coaxing three interceptions. Two were nowhere near an intended receiver, meaning somebody was lost or not on the right page.

It was just enough.

Even teams, even QB play, Belichick and his staff won this game. They made the difference.

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A 13-3 WILD CARD?

Believe me, there are folks in both New England and New York who are absolutely petrified right now.

The two best teams in the game reside in the AFC East. Right now, the division winner is on track to garner the No. 1 seed. The runner-up will likely draw an opening round dance at either Indy, Kansas City or San Diego — none of which will be considered an easy task.

For the record, the 8-2 Jets have home dates with Cincinnati, Miami and Buffalo left with road games here against the Pats, at Pittsburgh and Chicago.

New England goes to Detroit Thursday, with trips to Chicago and Buffalo. The Pats host the Jets, Green Bay and Miami.

Obviously, the pivotal game is Monday night, Dec. 6, here against New York.

Remember, the tie-breaker order: 1. Head-to-head; 2. Divisional record (Jets 3-0, Pats 2-1) ; 3. Common opponents record (Pats 6-1, Jets 5-2), 4. Conference record (Jets 6-1, Pats 7-2); 5. Strength of wins; 6. Strength of schedule.

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ROOKIE BREAKS A SCOOP!

"Billy O's a good good offensive coordinator. He knew what we needed to do, he knew what would work."

—Tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Wow, did the rookie inadvertently break news for to the world?

Andover's Bill O'Brien is still listed as the quarterbacks coach, but Hernandez leaked word, calling him a "good offensive coordinator."

Seriously, Aaron, did you just divulge a team secret?

"Uh, no!" he stated emphatically.

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I'LL NEVER UNDERSTAND IT

As someone who was at the "Snow Bowl" and later the win in Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams, I have to wonder how this crowd booed Adam Vinatieri, when he stepped on the field for the Colts.

The man did as much for this franchise as all but a handful of guys in history.

His kicks were legendary. He changed history.

And all of you with the audacity to boo him should be ashamed.

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