Monday, November 16, 2009

A few words about last night's classic meeting between the Colts and Patriots

For those of you who missed it or changed the channels early, the Colts defeated the Patriots 35-34 in a heart-attack thriller that went down to the wire. If I were to give you the super short executive summary of the game it would look like this.
  1. The Patriots dominated the first three quarters of play
  2. Belichick dialed up a defense that gave Peyton Manning fits in the first three quarters. He cut off Dallas Clark. He disrupted communications between Manning and Wayne. He really messed the Colt machinery.
  3. By the 4th quarter Manning figured out just exactly what Belichick was doing to him. The Manning computer came up with a solution set, and Peyton got red-hot.
  4. Still, with about 7 minutes to go, the Patriots had a 13 point lead. That would disintegrate quickly.
  5. With 2:23 showing on the clock, and Patriots clinging to a 6 point lead, the Patriots could not make a single first down. They did not attempt to run much in that series. They tried to throw the ball. Their passing attempts were crushed by the Colts. Several incomplete passes resulted in very few seconds running off the clock. Worse still, Brady burned precious time outs because he hated what the Colts were showing him defensively.
  6. It came down to 4th & 2 on the 28 yard line. Belichick decided to go for it. Most of us thought he was bluffing. We though he would line up, try to jerk the Colts into an off-sides penalty, then punt from the 23. Nope, he wasn't Bluffing. Brady took the snap, threw a quick outlet pass to Faulk, and Faulk got power-slammed by the Colt's Melvin Bullitt. He looked like Dan Bunz knocking down David Verser in Super Bowl 16.
  7. Some die-hard Patriot fans think Faulk got it, but this clearly not the case. As the ref said, Faulk was juggling the ball and did not establish possession until Bullitt had nearly slammed him on his back. The play could not be challenged or reviewed because Brady had burned all of the Patriots' timeouts. WOW!
  8. The clock stopped for change of possession, and the ball went to the Colts on the 28 yard line with 2:08 showing on the clock. It was almost too easy for Peyton. He had to take it easy and kill the clock on the final drive. The Colts ran several times (in the center of the field) during this final drive, forcing the clock to run down. The Pats couldn't do anything about it because Brady had already killed their timeouts.
  9. Reggie Wayne made one of the greatest catches I've ever seen to win the game. The coverage on him was unbelievably tight, and Manning had to lead Wayne way too much, but Wayne hulked up and made one hell of a catch. I guarantee you he is going to remember that as one of his greatest career plays.
  10. Immediately after the game, former Patriot Strong Safety Rodney Harrison poured gasoline on his former coach and ignited it. He busted Belichick for the entire play selection, use of timeouts, and the 4th & 2 call. He felt the entire end sequence was miss-managed.
  11. Trent Dilford followed, igniting Belichick some more. Teddi Bruschi didn't like the call either. One of the Boston newspapers led with the hadline "Braincramp", describing Belichick's manuevers at the end of the game. Most people are second-guessing Belichick this morning.
  12. Tom Brady defended his coach, saying "It's a game of inches. 7 more inches, and we kneel down with the ball three times, and the game is over. You would all be praising the coach's decision then."
So what do I think?
  • If Belichick had slammed Kevin Faulk into the middle of the line 3 times, and forced the Colts to burn their timeouts, what Brady said might make sense. This is not the case.
  • Belichick called 3 passing plays on 4 downs. That is wacky.
  • At the same time Bellichick allowed Brady to burn the Patriots' timeouts.
  • By the time we arrived at 4th and 2, I can almost go along with Belichick's decision making process.
  • Belichick is smart enough to know that Manning had computed a firing solution for his defense. He knew Manning was red-hot, and Bill did not want to give the ball back to Peyton. He knew he had had it.
  • 28 yards or 68 yards would have made little difference in my estimation. With 2:08 on the clock and all his timeouts, Peyton would have carved up the Patriot defense. I think Belichick knew this. I believe he had more confidence in his offense's ability to stop Colts than his defense's ability to stop the Colts. I concur with that conclusion. The only way to stop Manning at that point was to keep him off the field.
  • The Pats were crushed on the rocks of the Colt defense. That defense is a clutch defense. They have the ability to rise up in crucial moments and destroy you. We have to give a hell of a lot of credit to the Colts' defense for thumping the Patriots in the clutch.
So what can we say in the final analysis?
  1. Belichick remains a hell of defensive thinker.
  2. Belichick could not stop Manning all game long.
  3. Manning is now better than ever at recognizing patterns in defenses, finding difficult solutions, and making real-time adjustments.
  4. Tom Terrific and the Patriot offense choked in the clutch.
  5. The Colt defense has the capacity to rise in crucial situations
So who is the better team? Right now we have to say the Colts. Let's wait for the playoffs and see the final outcomes.