The headlines in the various Boston papers read as follows: “Indianapolis Jolt” (Boston Globe), “No Lucky Horseshoe” (Boston Herald), “Heartbreaker in Indy” (The Republican). They the game stories seemed to have the same tone – they all talk about “what if” for a Patriots team that had overcome the odds, come so far, and seemed to have everything in front of them as they built a huge lead Sunday, only to see it slip away. This was not the Pats team that we were all use to seeing. A Pats team in the past up 21-6 at the half may have bent a bit, but for sure they would not have broken. That’s what made Sunday’s eventual 38-34 loss to the Colts so tough for Patriots fans to watch. Has reality set in? Are the Pats on their way down? Or was Sunday just a bump in the road that will be overcome with some tweaking of a roster that has played so well together over the decade?
Those are the tough questions that will have to be answered over the next month or so as the Patriots have to decide where to go from here. Sunday they played a first half that seemed like a clinic, only to be treated like patients by Dr.Manning and co. in the second half. The defensive letdown is possibly the most alarming aspect of the loss Sunday. They battled the Colts wide outs tough in the first half, knocking down passes, bumping them at the line, and frustrating Peyton Manning into mistakes that included a int return for a score.
Then, almost out of nowhere, Manning started finding guys wide open. Corners like Ellis Hobbs, Ray Mickens, Assante Samuel, and Chad Scott went from ball hawkers making plays to guys that seemed to forget how to cover and tackle all in the span of a halftime. Then there was the breakdowns in the secondary that seemed to allow tight end Dallas Clark to be open each and everytime Manning looked for him. Clark had six catches for 137 yards, his long being a 52-yarder that set up one of the Colts many scores. Why an adjustment was not made to cover him better was mind boggling as you watched him run down the middle of the field wide open just about every play.
The Pats breakdown was complete once Tom Brady, Mr. Comeback, ran out of magic. With the Colts up 38-34 with less than :30 left, Brady fired his last shot, and it was picked off, ending a possible miracle comeback from a team and a quarterback that had so many over the years. It was stunning to watch, and made you wonder just where the Pats go from here. That’s two losses in the last four playoff games for New England, a team that was adding Super Bowl trophy’s at a record pace. Now the cold harsh truth sets in – they had this one in the bag – what happened?
To blame the Pats and not give the Colts their proper amount of credit would be a disservice to Indy. They played about as well on offense as you could play for the final 32 minutes. Manning was as good as he has ever been, and his wide outs and Clark played equally as good. It was just bizarre to see based on what we all had watched the first 28 minutes as the Pats led 21-3. Now for both teams, its the agony of defeat to a Pats team that will start the long offseason of looking for answers, while the triumph of victory to the Colts – who have one Bear to hunt to capture their first Super Bowl title for Manning, Tony Dungy and co.