Last night on the 18th of December, two of the best teams in the AFC clashed with huge post-season repercussions on the line. The Patriots were 9-4 and favorites to win the conference heading into the game, while the Colts were 7-6 and only the 5-seed, but had won 4 of their last 5 games.
The Patriots were also 6-0 on the road before traveling to Indianapolis and were hoping to slow down the Colts high scoring offense with their #1 overall defense. Players like Matthew Judon and ball hawking corner J.C. Jackson were expected to come up big. The game plan to beat the Colts was obvious, slow down MVP candidate Running Back Jonathan Taylor, and make the Colts throw the ball. Unfortunately for the Pats, that game plan didn't go to well.
The true downfall for the Patriots was their sluggish start in the first half. The Patriots allowed multiple 20+ yard plays on defense and Mac Jones threw 2 interceptions. The Patriots also allowed a blocked punt to be returned for a TD at the end of the first quarter. They would go into halftime down 17-0, in desperate need of a complete momentum shift in the second half.
Which is exactly what happened.
The second half started with another drive by the Colts leading to a field goal that would expand their lead to 20. After that, Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson would methodically drive the ball downfield to set up a 12 yard TD throw to Hunter Henry, his first of two on the day. As soon as the Patriots made their claim to stay in the game, Carson Wentz next pass would be tipped in the air and intercepted by Devin McCourty, giving the Patriots a short field of 53 yards to work with and suddenly the Patriots stole all momentum in this game.
Later in the 4th quarter, with the time winding down and the Patriots still holding the momentum of the game despite being down 20-7, they would find themselves 4th and goal on the 8 yard line thanks to another false start penalty. With only 9 minutes left Belichick decides to kick a field goal to keep the game separated by at least two drives.
After the Colts took 5 minutes off the clock, the Patriots would rally to score a quick touchdown strike to Henry, crushing the lead down to 3, and keeping one timeout and having the two-minute warning for their convenience.
And then Jonathan Taylor....
The 22-year old had barely made 103 yards with 28 carries to this point, having a work-horse, but not overly-effective game. On 3rd and 4 with a minute left, and a failed conversion leading to a chance for the Patriots to make one last 45 second drive, Taylor bursted threw a hole and the game was over. The Patriots gave up one of their longest rushes of the season as Taylor went 67 yards to put the lead to 27-17 and shortly after, the game was over.
The three downfalls for the Patriots was first, the 2-first half interceptions, one being in the red zone. the second being their inability to stop the run, giving up 226 yards on 30 carries. The last and most hurtful, was their penalties, a total of 8 for 50 yards and several key line-of-scrimmage penalties in key situations.
The Patriots will remain atop their division and in a great spot to make the playoffs as a 2 or 3 seed with the #1 seed still not out of reach, and with the Bills and Jaguars coming to town with a final game in Miami, The Pats are in a key position. Play to the level they are capable of and win out for the season.
Their second half comeback was truly meticulous and gritty, maybe a 4th quarter 4th down try for a touchdown instead of a field goal, or no blocked punts in the first half and they extend their win streak to 8 and then 11 by the end of the season. It was the Colts night however, as the 5-seed, expect to see them again in the playoffs.
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