1. Julian Edelman – It’s very hard to write this, because deep down I think this guy hurts the team more than he helps. But here goes. Ran a punt back 68 yards to tie the game at 14-14. Caught five balls for 58 yards and a TD, and yes, added the 47-yard run. That’s 232 all-purpose yards on the day.
2. Rob Gronkowski – Gifted with odd coverage that allowed him a free release then let a safety try and run him down, Gronk feasted with seven catches for 137 yards and two TDs. Uncoverable with one guy, although the Colts tried.
3. Wes Welker – Another seven catches for 80 yards. Quiet but so dependable. Pay the guy his money.
4. Tom Brady – Stepped up in the pocket with authority. Obviously, he was listening when some radio guy in Boston – actually two of them – agreed that right now they would trade Brady for Andrew Luck. I’ll take three more years with this guy (24 of 35, 331 yards, 0 picks, 127.2 rating) over three decades of slow-hand, Andrew Luck.
5. Alfonzo Dennard – Luck completed 54 percent of his passes for 334 yards and three interceptions. That’s a victory for this secondary. So, we’ll salute Alfonzo Dennard and his pick-6. Aqib Talib was just beaten too often to gain the adulation.
6. Rob Ninkovich – Strip-sack and recovery. Whatever little pass rush the Pats are getting comes from Ninkovich, who finished with four solo tackles.
1. Stevan Ridley – This was the opportunity to close, and instead the Pats were forced to the air and a crazy end-around to Julian Edelman to slam the door. So much for the “Sandman” nickname.
2. Brandon Spikes/Jerod Mayo – The Colts ran for 5.0 yards a carry and were dictating pace until Andrew Luck imploded. Where were these two? They combined for a pair of solos and a 18 pile-jumps or assists.
3. Stephen Gostkowski – Another field goal miss for the guy who replaced Adam Vinatieri.
4. The 68,756 – You don’t boo Adam Vinatieri. Shame on every single one of you, who don’t give him a standing ovation every time he steps on the field.
5. Kyle Arrington – I will pilfer a line from ex-colleague Tim Bresnahan, who Tweeted yesterday (@Tbres7), “(Pats radio man Scott) Zolak is one more penalty away from taking a sniper’s rifle and finishing off Kyle Arrington.” Tortured early by Andrew Luck, he was solely responsible for the first 14 Colts points of the game.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B-) … Look, they’re missing two starters. Still, these guys are pros, and they’re to be graded on a pro level. Tom Brady was not sacked, but he felt some pressure around the edges at times.
Nate Solder dragged a pair of early penalties. Brady is rifling the ball out early, too. The two backs combined for 68 yards on 24 carries (2.8 per rush). That’s not enough.
Wide Receivers (B+) … Both Julian Edelman and Wes Welker bounce to the head of the class this week. And while Brady was about to rip Brandon Lloyd’s head off for one mis-read, I thought the newcomer had a good day with four catches for 45 yards on seven targets. Expect Deion Branch to be back, probably next week after Thursday’s Jets game.
Tight ends (A) … Rob Gronkowski was flat-out uncoverable in one-on-one situations. First TE in history with three straight 10-TD seasons out of the gate. Another 100-plus yard night. Nobody else factored, although Daniel Hoomanawanui cost Julian Edelman a TD on the end around, tripping his teammate up at the three-yard line.
Running Backs (C) … Very little from Stevan Ridley (13-28) and Shane Vereen (11-40). No carries, no catches and limited snaps for Danny Woodhead.
Quarterback (A) … He’ll get few votes, but he’s my AFC Offensive MVP. He just won’t make the dumb mistakes. Has thrown 382 passes this year with 21 TDs and three interceptions. Are you kidding me?
Line (B-) … They turned Vince Wilfork loose a bit more than usual, and twice he whiffed on Vince Ballard in the backfield. Rob Ninkovich plays so well against bad QBs. Nothing from Kyle Love or Jermaine Cunningham. Andrew Luck was given eons to throw.
Linebackers (C-) … Just a dreadful day. The Colts ran when they wanted, which should never happen. Jerod Mayo looked a step slow. Brandon Spikes is out of position too often. And Dont’a Hightower is either hurt, has hit the rookie wall, is disinterested or just isn’t that good. He’s a shadow of what he was before the leg injury.
Secondary (B+) … Without the two pick-sixes — each of which came when Andrew Luck badly missed an open receiver — they add another “D-” to their collection. But I’d be hung in effigy of I didn’t acknowledge their 14-point “contribution.” Aqib Talib was another body out there. And Devin McCourty actually caught the butterfly this time and got back in the race, making a couple plays at safety. (That’s an old “Odd Couple” reference, for those who are confused.) All I will say to you is don’t be too overjoyed with this group.
Special Teams (B+) … Julian Edelman forced a fumble and added the punt return for TD. They handled the Colts return game nicely, too. Would have been an “A” if “Semi-automatic” Stephen didn’t miss a 36-yard chip shot.
NO LOVE FOR LUCK
What was all the fuss about?
The next Peyton Manning? Last night here at Gillette Stadium, I saw the next Kevin Kolb.
And I was saying that in the first quarter, when Kolb — I mean Andrew Luck — was 6 for 7 for 67 yards and a touchdown. Check my Twitter (@MVCreature). From the opening snap, Luck looked confused or at least took all day to survey the field. He stared, he tip-toed, he danced and locked on to receivers.
To put it in computer terms, if Tom Brady is a Pentium processor, Luck looks like the Commodore 64.
And in the NFL, this game is all about processing.
See the blitz, burn the blitz.
See the cover-2, exploit the two mediocre safeties.
Luck is indeed scary. When he’s in trouble and has to fire, he’s pretty darn good, in a Ben Roethlisberger mode. Along with a handful of awful misses — misses I’ve never, ever seen Tom Brady have, mind you — there were five or six balls that made you say, “Wow.”
The reading defenses thing would scare the life out of me if I were a Colts’ fan. He just took too long.
And I don’t know if that’s a skill you can learn. Am I a little tough on Luck? Sure.
But he was the one who said it was absurd this week to compare him with Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
“I definitely don’t deserve to be in that sentence or breath,” said Luck, who in the biggest start of his 10-game career hit 27 of 50 passes with three interceptions and a 63.3 rating. “If someday I can play at a level that Peyton and Tom play at, that’d be a quarterback dream come true.”
After yesterday’s effort, I’m apt to believe him.
THE TURNING POINT
Down 24-17 with 1:47 left in the second quarter and all three of their timeouts saved, Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense took the football at their own 10.
Knowing the Patriots get the opening kick of the second half, they had to get points. On the biggest drive of the night, the savior Luck went a mediocre 5 for 9 for 45 yards and misplayed the clock, too. With time running out, they were forced to try a 58-yard field goal, which 39-year-old Adam Vinatieri pulled right.
Predictably, Tom Brady took over in the third quarter, hitting 5 of 7 for 65 yards on the first drive, which ended with a 2-yard TD pop to Julian Edelman.
Right then and there, it was over.
WHY BELICHICK’S BETTER
Quality coaches turn adversity into an advantage.
Yesterday, early, the Colts were gashing the Patriots at the defensive right edge, exploiting the rookies, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.
The news got worse when Jones left with what was reported to be a foot injury.
But Belichick simply moved Rob Ninkovich from the left defensive end to the right, then replaced him with Jermaine Cunningham on the left.
The running game disappeared almost immediately.
FIVE THOUGHTS AT 7-3 AS WE FORGE TO THANKSGIVING AND THE JETS
1. Reports late last night had Rob Gronkowski breaking his forearm late. He left the game with under five minutes left. Losing him is as tough a break for this offense as losing anyone else but Brady. He’s invaluable.
2. Did watching the Texans struggle into overtime with Jacksonville make you realize how winnable this AFC really is? I mean, the Pats are pedestrian as far as their title teams go, but they are right there in the mix.
3. The best thing that could have happened to the Pats was the Jets winning yesterday. With only three days between games, which team do you think will be more prepared? Rex’s or Bill’s?
4. Was that Deion Sanders’ strut that Julian Edelman tried to emulate on his punt return for TD? Kid, don’t flatter yourself. There was, is and will be only one “Prime Time” in this league. And it ain’t you.
5. If the playoffs in the AFC ended now, the Pats would be staring at a playoff opener at home, potentially against the Colts or the Steelers with either Baltimore or Houston the reward for victory. Does any part of that scare you? Nope.