Biggest Takeaways from New England Patriots' Week 6 Win
It wasn't quite the blowout everyone was expecting, but the result was exactly what most had predicted.
The "Deflategate revenge game" was a back-and-forth affair that was much more exciting than anticipated, with six lead changes over the course of the game before the Patriots finally put the pedal to the metal and finished off the Colts in the second half.
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows coming out of Gillette Stadium, though, as the Patriots are dealing with some injuries as well as upcoming opponents who are ramping up their game to become the team that finally knocks the Patriots off.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the game.
Patriots Facing a Growing List of Injured Players
Every team faces adversity every year, but it's often how that team responds to its own individual adversity that defines that team's season.
The Patriots are dealing with a slew of injuries right now, which isn't the end of the world in and of itself. It's still early in the season, and there's plenty of time for some of those players to get fully healthy before the playoffs.
It's the fact that they are dealing with several injuries at one position that is causing a bit of a stir in New England. Left tackle Nate Solder tore his biceps against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve last week, but the Patriots' situation at left tackle went from bad to worse when backup Marcus Cannon suffered a foot injury and did not return.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower (rib) was ruled out for Sunday's game, and the Patriots lost defensive end Jabaal Sheard and special teams ace Matthew Slater during the course of the game as well. There's still no word on the severity of those injuries, but these are the kinds of dings and dents that the Patriots will have to endure at different points throughout the season.
The good news is there are some injured players who are slowly making their returns. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell is eligible to return off the physically unable to perform list this week against the New York Jets, and center Bryan Stork is eligible to return in Week 9 off of short-term injured reserve.
Tom Brady Is a Machine
During the week, a reporter asked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady how he, as a human, could honestly say that he didn't feel a little extra motivation to prepare for the Indianapolis Colts, the team that ratted out the Patriots for what eventually came to be known as Deflategate. Brady responded with humility to assure the public that he is, indeed, a human.
The results on the field speak otherwise.
Brady has thrown 14 touchdowns and one fluky interception this season. The interception bounced off of wide receiver Julian Edelman's hands and into the waiting arms of Colts safety Mike Adams. If Brady keeps this up, his next interception won't come until the month of December, and he'll finish the season with 45 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Brady finished 23-of-37 passing for 312 yards, three touchdowns and the pick against the Colts, but it wasn't just the final stat line that was impressive. It was the way in which he achieved those numbers, by dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging around the Colts' pass-rushers.
The Patriots offensive line has suffered three key injuries during the season (Bryan Stork, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon) and entered the season without one of its key veterans (Ryan Wendell) but Brady continues to lead the Patriots offense to sterling numbers as the league's highest-scoring offense and second-leading offense in total yards.
The Patriots Are Masters of in-Game Adjustments
The Patriots have spent much of the season playing with a comfortable lead. They have 232 plays on offense when leading by any margin (third-most in the NFL) and 150 plays on offense when leading by at least 10 points (most in the NFL). They have led by at least 10 points at halftime in all but one of their games.
That one game was Sunday, when the Patriots were trailing by the smallest of margins at the end of the first half. The Patriots went into the locker room, and while they didn't come out of the locker room a different team, they came out with much better execution.
The Patriots went on to score 14 unanswered points in the second half and held the Colts without any points in the third quarter. In fact, the Colts ran 16 plays for 35 yards in that third quarter as the Patriots mounted their comeback and built a lead.
Improved pressure from the defensive front and an increased focus on the running game helped the Patriots get on course and put the Colts away.
The Patriots Benefited Greatly from the Colts' Stupidity
Throw out all your cursory nickname attempts for the Colts' failed "swinging gate" play.
From here on out, let's just call it the "WTFake Punt," or WTFake for short.
The Colts may have tried to copy something they saw from the University of Maine Black Bears, or they may have been going for something completely different. They might have simply been trying to fool the Patriots into lining up incorrectly or confusing them and forcing them to take a timeout.
In either case, the WTFake was nothing less than an epic fail and was undoubtedly one of the reasons the Patriots won so convincingly. Thanks to the Colts' stupidity on the play, the Patriots got the ball back on the Colts' 35-yard line, and six plays later, they scored their second touchdown of the second half to go up by 13 points.
The Colts were giving the Patriots all they could handle up to that point, and with one mistake, their efforts were almost immediately dashed.
Rob Gronkowski's Impact Felt off the Stat Sheet
Three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown is not quite the eye-popping stat line we grew accustomed to seeing from tight end Rob Gronkowski in the first four games of the season, but Gronkowski made his mark without making a big impact on the stat sheet.
Thanks to the Colts' game plan of double- and triple-teaming Gronkowski in coverage, slot receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were wide open for long stretches on Sunday night. The two receivers combined for 13 receptions, 155 yards and a touchdown. Amendola's 105 receiving yards were the most he's put up since December 15, 2013.
At some point, the Patriots are going to have to find ways to keep their most explosive offensive playmaker involved in the game. That point may come if and when wide receiver Brandon LaFell returns to the field in Week 7 against the New York Jets. At the very least, LaFell's presence will force the safeties to respect yet another big-bodied pass-catcher with downfield ability.
Gronkowski is to the 2015 Patriots what Randy Moss was to the 2007 team. The more involved he is, the more explosive potential the Patriots offense has.