New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) heads past Indianapolis Colts linebacker A.J. Edds (52) during the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)


1. Matt Light/Nate Solder - Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney were basically blanked (Mathis 2 assists), despite Tom Brady dropping to throw 39 times. Control the big-play defenders on the edge and the Colts defense is as strong as a Wal-Mart pié±ata.

2. Jerod Mayo - His first career interception was an absolute web gem.

3. Vince Wilfork - Five solos, five assists and a sack. He's one of three interior linemen in the game that you can stare at all day and watch.

4. Scott Zolak - Give it up for the former Pats QB turned broadcaster. He spent all Saturday here at Gillette, working the high school Super Bowls deep into the night. And then he was back at it yesterday in his regular radio gig. That's dedication. And total professionalism. Big props to Zo.

Note: I simply would love to include Wes Welker (11 catches, 114 yards), Aaron Hernandez (7-43), Rob Gronkowski (5-64, 2 TDs, 1 TD rushing) and Deion Branch (3-37) in the Big Shows. But I grade on the curve, and since they were facing the Duxbury secondary out there, all that production just isn't worthy.


`1. Patriots fans - No, not because this resembled a preseason game with all the empty seats. I can respect that. The simple fact that this group booed Adam Vinatieri, one of the top five Patriots of all time, they must be held accountable. You booed Adam Vinatieri ... Really? Really? Really?

2. Devin McCourty - An auspicious return after two weeks away. The second-year corner re-ignited the Pro Bowl hopes of Pierre Garcon, who had a season-high 9 catches for a season-high 150 yards with a pair of TDs. And then there was horrifying angle he took allowing Donald Brown a swath to the pylon for a TD. Yikes.

3. Danny Woodhead - No catches and four carries for 12 yards against a cushy Colts front.

4. BJG-E/Stevan Ridley - Can one of you please step up in the closers' role? A combined 14 carries for 47 yards is not going to get it done.



Line (B+) — Nary a scratch on Brady, despite 39 drops in the pocket. Nice work by fill-in Nick McDonald, signed late in the week and tossed into the starting lineup Sunday. Still, there wasn't much room to run against winless Indy ... 3.0 yards a carry doesn't get it done.

Wide Receivers (B+) — No Taylor Price here to drag down the class gpa. Wes Welker continues to ring up the dollars, I mean catches. Sign him now! Deion Branch, rock solid. Tiquan Underwood, way to step in "HTF" (High Top Fade) and make a 10-yard catch. And even Chad Ochocinco had a catch with only one drop. Nice day.

Tight Ends (A) — Rock (Rob Gronkowski) and Hard Place (Aaron Hernandez) continue to decimate the opposition with 12 combined catches for 107 yards and a couple TDs (plus Gronk's 2-yard TD run). Remember, when this team tried to do this with Dan Graham and Ben Watson? And they said it couldn't be done.

Running Backs (C-) — Nobody is running as hard as needed in the money months of December, January and February. A long run of 8 on the day by Stevan Ridley (8-33). BJG-E was 6 for 14. That's a solid series for Dustin Pedroia. For a lead running back in the NFL, it smells.

Quarterback (A) — Had time, had open receivers and had no Peyton Manning across the way. Of course, Brady was going to ace this test. A 115.4 rating on the afternoon, one that would have been 123.3 if the Gronkowski TD wasn't reversed in the booth and called a run. "I thought it was a forward pass. I threw it," he said.


Line (B) — Vince Wilfork's motor never stopped. It rubbed off on the front three no matter who was in there as Colts rushers totaled 3.3 yards a carry with the Pats in nickel and dime sets all day.

Linebackers (B-) — Jerod Mayo's interception highlighted a quiet day, as he Rob Ninkovich and Niko Koutouvides combined for seven solo tackles. Much of the Colts' offense went over their heads, so they grade out decently.

Secondary (D-) — Dan Orlovsky threw for 353 yards and a pair of TDs, completing 30 of 37 passes. And that was without even seeing a wide-open Reggie Wayne on numerous plays. Another step back for whoever is left back their as the Pats continue their grip on 32nd place on pass defense in the game.

Coaching (B+) — Bill Belichick is working with exiles and refugees from various practice squads and training camps, yet he's found a nice formula here. Assess in the first quarter where to attack. Hit the opposition hard in the second quarter and put it away with the back-to-back possessions surrounding halftime. He schooled Jim Caldwell's staff.

Special teams (C ) — A very quiet day with little in the return game. The Colts, who average 2 yards per punt return coming in, had a 21-yarder. Julian Edelman protected the football but didn't do much more.

The turning point

Bill Polian sees the writing on the wall with the Peyton Manning neck injury, and he and the Colts decided that the No. 1 pick overall draft is a mighty valuable chip these days.

I realize they fought hard, but this Colts' team simply hasn't tried to win at all. And at 0-12, they are on the verge of locking it down.

Why Belichick's better

No need to summon more than a list for this one.

Nick McDonald, Niko Koutouvides, Nate Jones, Matt Slater, Tiquan Underwood, Sterling Moore, Tracy White, Marcus Cannon, Donald Thomas, Chad Ochocinco and Ron Brace all played roles in the win yesterday.

"Who?" you say.

My feelings exactly.

Five thoughts as I look ahead

1. If/when Jerod Mayo turns in a typical postseason lemon (see the past two playoff losses for proof) I do not want to hear any excuses about his tender knee. That interception he had, soaring through the air like a hawk on a field mouse's tail, was pure athleticism at its best. No excuses, he's fine.

2. I was mocked a week ago Sunday for going in print and predicting a Broncos-Pats AFC title game here in January. Yesterday's results definitely helped the Longo/Tebow-loving cause as Timmy T. hit 10 of 15 for 202 yards and 2 TDs in a 35-32 win over Minnesota. By the way, that was good for a 149.31 PASSER rating for no-throw Tebow. Oakland lost to Miami, meaning Team Tebow is on the lead in the AFC West.

3. The Jets won't go away either. A big win at Washington, combined with Pittsburgh pummeling the Bengals, strengthens their playoff pulse.

4. I'm afraid of the running game more than I'm afraid of the Pats' defense. At some point, you need to run in the playoffs.

5. What does Sergio Brown have going through his head when he's perfectly healthy and Bill Belichick is holding community auditions at safety?


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