"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
One year ago, I had just moved up to New York and was crashing on my brother's couch while I looked for a place to live. On a Sunday night I headed out to a bar by myself to watch the Patriots and Colts play the Sunday night game. The Patriots jumped up to a 4th quarter 17 point lead and I left the bar and went home. On my brothers couch I prepared to watch the final seconds dwindle away. However, after a Maroney fumble and some conservative playcalling the Colts were right back in it. Bill Belichick was forced to go for it on 4th and 2 in his own territory. [Side note: I still maintain Faulk got that first down but there was no way the ref would have the onions to overturn it. Seriously, look at where Faulk's body is when he controls the ball after the bobble. Only his left leg is behind the 30.]
The Patriots did not keep attacking and that is what led to their downfall. As I sat there watching the game yesterday, I could not believe they were making the same mistake twice. Listen, I am a huge Tom Brady fan and he may be my favorite QB of all time but no one can run an offense like Peyton. In a game against the Colts, typically you have a certain number of Colts offensive possessions to implement your gameplan. After a certain point of no return (like the old mill in Back to the Future III) there is nothing you can do. Peyton will systematically break your defense into mush. That is when your defense has been as porous as the Pats has this year.
After the Patriots went up 17 they shut it down. They went to umbrella corporation mode and when you do that Peyton needs only a minute or two to score. The Colts had to bring in a no-name CB to play press coverage on Deoin Branch on 3rd down after the first TD of the 4th. He decided to manhandle Branch and got away with it. The refs were calling it light all game. Colts get the ball back and again drive right down the field and score. Now we get to the same position we were in last year. This year however, the Colts are decimated by injuries. Aside from Freeney and Mathis they are a patchwork defense. All the Patriots had to do was drive it down the field like they had been doing and they could have ended the game. They ran on first down, no problem there. They actually picked up a first down on the run. But then they ran it two more times with Indy stacking the box. A quick screen, a quick slant, a quick out, a pass to one of the TEs in the seem, anything would have gotten them down the field.
Indy had all 3 timeouts. Why are you playing kill the clock with over 3:00 left when number 18 has just shown you he needs less than two minutes to score? The Pats were left with 3rd and 9 and Brady almost threw a pick. At this point, I was hoping just to hold the Colts to a FG. Peyton picked on poor Pat Chung who had a horrible game in coverage. Down the field they went. Less than a minute left. Pats attempting to waste clock meant they would be left with no time themselves. Somehow, New England got a reprieve. Tully Banta-Cain's pressure forced an off throw and Garcon and Tamme running their routes too close together meant Sanders was close enough to intercept the pass.
This wasn't Terry Porter making the right read and stepping in front of Wayne in the Super Bowl. This was Sanders being in the right place at the right time when Peyton's throw was altered. The Colts might have gone for the home run a little early. The Patriots' defense has been bad this year, but they are young and Belichick has instituted the bend but don't break philosophy. When the Patriots have had a lead, that has changed into just try not to give up the big play. That has led to giving up big plays and points. It happened against the Jets, the Chargers and the Colts. They were fortunate to win two of those games.
I hope this philosophy changes when the playoffs get here because taking your foot off the gas is not a solid strategy. Killing the clock when your defense lets the offense score quickly is not going to work. The Pats escaped this time and have an inside track to home-field advantage. It would behoove them to learn from this game.