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Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Team effort lifts Pats to drubbing of Colts
New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) returns the punt for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. (David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Tom Brady took the field for warm-ups almost an hour before his Patriots kicked things off with the Colts, everything was business as usual. He entered alongside backup Ryan Mallett. Jay-Z was pumping through the Gillette Stadium speakers. The quarterbacks were jogging up the New England sideline.
But as Brady neared the far end zone, he diverted from his usual pregame routine. Typically when he reached that point he just turns around and heads back up field - though as he neared the goal line Sunday he started jumping. And screaming. And bobbing his head.
In front of him were merely some musket-bearing colonials and a small clump of fans, yet the quarterback didn't care. He was fired up for this one and he wanted everybody else to be, too.
And apparently his teammates got the message. All of them.
Apparently having heard the hype that preceded the Colts' arrival, the Patriots followed the lead of Brady's exuberant entrance by ending Indianapolis' four-game winning streak and humbling its hotshot rookie quarterback with a performance that was as complementary as it was convincing. In the end, New England scored five touchdowns offensively and added three more in the return game, handing the Colts a 59-24 wakeup call that came with major contributions in all three facets of the game.
"The players really stepped up and delivered some big plays throughout the game," said coach Bill Belichick. "I thought was played good complementary football. All three units worked together. The players did a great job of executing and playing for 60 minutes."
The circumstances leading into Sunday's game were similar to those of last year's game against Denver, with Andrew Luck serving Tim Tebow's role as the hot new thing, with the Colts' improbable success captivating the media like the Broncos' did a year ago, with CBS deeming the matchup enticing enough to make the contest its national broadcast - with the Patriots motivated by the chance to remind the upstarts and the NFL that the league's standard bearers are plenty dangerous, too.
And that they did, both then and now, this time with as comprehensive a game as they've played all year. It was a performance that wasn't totally complete, but defensive back Devin McCourty admitted was "close," and certainly gave all corners of the home locker room something to feel good about.
Brady was typically brilliant, throwing for three touchdowns and 331 yards, but he was hardly alone. Rob Gronkowski caught two of those scores and accounted for 137 yards on seven grabs. Julian Edelman had the other touchdown, which was his second of the day after he ran a punt back 68 yards.
Newcomer Aqib Talib returned an interception 59 yards for a score in his first game as a Patriot, then Alfonzo Dennard outdid him with an 89-yard pick-six to put the game away in the fourth quarter. In between, Rob Ninkovich had a strip sack that gave him five forced fumbles for the season, tying him with Mike Vrabel for the most by a Patriot in two decades.
For all those names and numbers, though, the sequence best exemplifying the complementary nature of the victory came early in the second quarter. When it began, the Patriots trailed, as Luck really had the Colts' offense humming early, and Stephen Gostkowski squandered the Patriots' second drive by missing a 36-yard field goal.
But then the defense forced a punt, and Edelman took it to the house. Two plays later Talib snagged a Luck overthrow, then zigged and zagged his way to the end zone. In a span of 61 seconds the Patriots turned a 14-7 deficit into a 21-7 lead, and did it all with Brady wearing a winter hat. Too often it's Brady who's forced to carry them, and whose contribution is tied directly to the team's success.
Sunday, however, in the moment they seized control of the game No. 12 was standing on the sideline.
And that's a great sign for this team moving forward.
"We scored on defense, we scored on special teams, we scored on offense," said Edelman, who had 222 total yards, "so it was a complementary game."
"That's the way we want to play," added Wes Welker, who had seven catches himself. "Get turnovers, capitalize on turnovers, play good team football and I think that was a good case of what we did today."
They played that way basically from start to finish, not relenting even when they held a three-score advantage with less than 10 minutes to play. Though they led, 45-24, at the time, the Patriots threw the ball three times and ran an end-around to Edelman on a seven-play series that covered 80 yards, and ultimately ended with Stevan Ridley romping untouched into the end zone from 3 yards out.
Of course, for a team that has struggled to finish, it was a reminder that they must play all 60 minutes. But Brady's emphatic fist pump at the end of Ridley's run suggested it meant more than that.
Paired with the screaming-and-jawing way he took the field, that final fist pump suggested again how much Brady personalized this challenge. Even if he claimed not to be listening, how much he wanted to prove to people that the AFC still runs through Foxborough. He and Belichick, a dozen years into their run, may no longer be the sexy storyline - but they're still darn good.
Brady played like a man who wanted everyone to remember that, and his teammates responded right along with him, putting the conference on notice about what the Patriots are capable of when they're focused, motivated, and complementing each other.
"We knew our mental toughness would be tested," Brady said, "and I thought our guys responded."
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.