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Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Colts have played their best against the best
That would be the Colts, who beat the 49ers (27-7) in Week 3, beat the Seahawks (34-28) two weeks later, then they beat the Broncos (39-33) two weeks after that, and who now come to Foxborough looking to fell another of the league’s giants on Saturday night, when they take on the Patriots in a divisional round playoff tilt made possible by the 28-point comeback Indianapolis used to stun Kansas City in eliminating the Chiefs during wild-card weekend.
•Indy’s defense was tough on third down.
That was true of a lot of games this season, given the veteran edge rusher’s league-high 19.5 sacks and nearly-as-impressive nine forced fumbles. But he was particularly disruptive during this sample, starting with 1.5 sacks and two hits on Colin Kaepernick against the 49ers. He followed that with two sacks, another hit, and a forced fumble against the Seahawks. And then he hit Peyton Manning four times, dropped him twice, and scored a safety by knocking the ball loose on one of them. Keep in mind that Denver allowed a league-low 20 sacks on the year.
Only seven teams had fewer receptions of 20-plus yards than did the Colts, however controlling the ball against the 49ers — owning a 36:25-23:35 advantage in time of possession — Indy toasted Seattle for touchdown passes of 73 and 29 yards to T.Y. Hilton, then hit on four plays of at least 25 yards against Denver. The Seahawks gave up fewer big plays than any team in football this season, but couldn’t prevent a couple from Hilton, who scored the game-winner from 64 yards out on Saturday to cap a 13-catch, 224-yard effort.
Indianapolis was good in the red zone this season, ranking seventh by scoring touchdowns on 58.9 percent of trips inside the 20. It was great, though, in this three-game sample, when it reached the end zone on seven of nine chances — equating to 77.8 percent. That would’ve led the league this year, and every year dating back at least a decade.
The Colts’ running game is mediocre at best, ranking 13th in yards per carry and 20th in overall yards, but in all three games they were able to gain more yardage than the opponent allowed on average this season, including a particularly impressive 179 against the 49ers. That allowed them to maintain a near 50-50 balance between the run and the pass (51.3 percent run, 48.7 percent pass, to be precise) during those three wins. The Patriots placed their best run-stuffing linebacker on injured reserve Monday, as Brandon Spikes is done for the year with a knee injury, which should be a boon to Indy’s ground game — and thus its unpredictability.
There were stages in the three contests where the Colts were in jeopardy of the game getting away from them. They managed only two field goals with seven possessions over the middle 45 minutes of the 49ers game. Their offense opened punt-punt-safety against the Seahawks. The Broncos tightened things after falling behind, 36-17. But each time Indy flexed its mental toughness and found a way to stabilize itself, and ultimately a way to seize the opportunity.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.