Five things we learned from the Colts' 18-15 conquest of the Patriots Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.....
At 4-4, the Colts at least have a second half of the season to play for. Though chasing the unbeaten Titans down for the AFC South title is still just a pipedream, Indy is now just a game off the pace in the AFC wild card chase, behind the clump of 5-3 clubs that includes Baltimore, the Jets, and either New England or Buffalo, whichever one is technically the wild card contender rather than the AFC East leader at the moment. Indy is now in sole possession of second place in its division, a game ahead of both Jacksonville and Houston, who are both 3-5 after losing on the road Sunday.
"It's a big win,'' said Colts quarterback
Will this be a springboard type of victory for the Colts? I'm not so sure. They travel to Pittsburgh next week, and that's no easy assignment, even if the Steelers will have a short week of preparation after playing at Washington on Monday night. The Colts knew however that their season was effectively on the line against New England, and they responded like the proud, veteran team they are. For this night at least, they refused to let their NFL-best five-year streak of not having more than four losses come to an end.
"It was about time,'' Colts safety
A replay review showed that the 12th Colt on the field made it off in time, and the other Indy defender was only the 11th man on the field. Thus the Patriots lost their first timeout of the second half on a rather inconsequential failed challenge. New England could have better used that challenge when moments later Faulk appeared to score on a two-point conversion, only to be ruled down before the ball crossed the goal line.
The timeout wiped out the apparent first down, and kicker
"Well, we didn't get a very look at the spot,'' said Belichick, when asked about his indecision on the fourth and 1 call. "At first we thought it was fourth and inches. But all along it was fourth and about a yard. So, once we saw what the distance was, it just seemed better to go for the points.''
The Patriots got their three points. But they were the last points New England scored all night.
But he nailed this one with plenty to spare, sending it hurtling into the net that hangs several yards beyond the uprights. It was a courageous decision by coach
"I can't imagine he had any satisfaction making that kick,'' said Dungy, with his tongue planted firmly in cheek. "It was probably just another game for him.''
Vinatieri entered the game just 5 of 8 on field goals this season, with his longest being from 47 yards. He has missed from 30, 49 and had a 45-yard attempt partially blocked.
"Tonight I had one shot and thank goodness it went through,'' he said. "I guess it's that much sweeter when you help your current team beat your former team. It was a big win and I'm pretty happy about that.''
Gonzalez caught just four passes for 55 yards against the Patriots, but three of them were huge: a 12-yard touchdown pass that opened the scoring late in the first quarter; a 9-yard touchdown pass that helped the Colts take a 15-12 lead with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter; and a critical 24-yard catch on third-and-9 from the Indy 39 in the fourth quarter. That last play was the key gain in the Colts' game-winning field goal drive, setting up Vinatieri's 52-yarder.
Manning's second touchdown pass to Gonzalez came on a beauty of a fade route, with Gonzalez beating cornerback
"I can't tell you how Gonzalez and I have been working on that throw in practice,'' Manning said. "That's a rewarding play. It makes you feel like it's worth your time spending that time in the film room, or in between practice drills talking about it. It's good to see it pay off, especially on a critical third-down conversion with that touchdown.''
Cassel is getting fairly efficient at taking what a defense gives him. If the defense is doubling and taking away
New England produced 22 first downs, and had 342 yards of offense, besting the Colts in both departments (18 and 301). The Pats were 8 of 14 on third downs, ran for 140 yards despite not having
Is it as breath-taking as Brady and Co.? Of course not. But Cassel and friends can be effective, witness New England's four scoring drives against the Colts, which lasted for 13, 13, 15 and 15 plays. These Patriots aren't going to blow out too many opponents. But their 5-3 record without Brady at midseason is far from a fluke. I say odds are they repeat that showing in the second half, and wind up an AFC playoff qualifier at 10-6.