Brady, Gordon Power Patriots in Win Over Colts
FOXBORO -- Maybe the rivalry really is back on.
The Indianapolis Colts looked harmless and lovable during the first half on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots frolicked to a 24-3 lead.
But led by quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts put up a second-half fight, perhaps stoking some good old Deflategate fury into the bellies of New England fans who were made to squirm through a 38-24 Patriots victory.
Luck threw touchdown passes of 14 yards to Eric Ebron and 13 yards to Erik Swoope, the second with 12:48 left to cut New England’s lead to 24-17.
But in his second game as a Patriot, Josh Gordon squeezed between two Colts defenders to grab a 34-yard pass by Tom Brady into the end zone to put the Patriots up 31-17 with 9:19 left. Brady showed great trust in Gordon’s undeniable physical gifts. Gordon’s first touchdown as a Patriot made him the 71st different player to catch a TD pass from Brady during his 19-year career. That set an NFL record for ball distribution that previously belonged to Vinny Testaverde. The pass to Gordon was also Brady’s 500th career TD pass (3rd all-time).
Then a Jonathan Jones interception was followed on the next play by a 34-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel (18 carries, 98 yards) that put New England up 38-17.
The Colts made it interesting again when Luck hit Ebron for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:11 left. The Patriots’ Nate Ebner recovered the ensuing onside kick.
The night was notable for the Patriots welcoming back wide receiver Julian Edelman (7 catches, 57 yards), suspended the first four games this season for violating the league’s PED policy. Edelman was playing his first game that counted since his indescribable catch while tangled up with three Atlanta Falcons 20 months ago in Super Bowl LI. He missed all last season with a knee injury suffered during preseason.
Sometimes we forget the Patriots made that 25-point comeback in Super Bowl LI without Rob Gronkowski, who two months earlier had been placed on IR following back surgery. In fact, Edelman and Gronkowski were together on the field in a real game for the first time since Nov. 27, 2016. Playing with an ankle injury that had him listed as questionable coming in, Gronkowski had six catches for 75 yards.
The Colts were in Foxboro for the first time since the 2014 AFC Championship Game, played on Jan. 18, 2015, a cold and wet Saturday night when footballs used by Brady during a 45-7 New England victory may or may not have been intentionally deflated. But please, let’s not debate it again. I was reluctant to even bring it up. (The teams did subsequently meet in Indianapolis during the 2015 regular season, a 34-27 New England victory.)
More recently, the Colts eight months ago were all excited to introduce Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their new head coach. McDaniels instead backed out at the very last moment and returned to New England. That enraged Colts GM Chris Ballard, who angrily declared “the (Patriots-Colts) rivalry is back on” while naming Frank Reich as Indianapolis’ new head coach. Reich came from being coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles offense that pinball-machined the Patriots’ defense in the Super Bowl.
“It’s a funny league, strange circumstances, (a) lot of things out of my control,” said Reich on Tuesday when asked if he was glad McDaniels didn’t take the Colts job. “I can try to control the controllables and (be) thankful for the opportunity that I have.”
This Colts’ offense scheme-wise resembles the Eagles offense Bill Belichick believed could be halted with Malcolm Butler just watching. Fortunately, the Patriots got off to a big head start on Thursday.
Luck finished 38 of 59 for 365 yards, with three TDs and two interceptions. Brady was 34 of 44 for 341 yards, also with three TDs and two interceptions.
The Colts, now 21-32 since the Night of the Ideal Gas Law (including 4-12 last season) at first didn’t seem ready to rival it back up with New England again. Ballard, who was a Kansas City Chiefs executive back when the Deflategate saga was inflicted on the nation, was wishfully thinking the Patriots-Colts rivalry was back on.
It was still tough for many Patriots fans to get a feeling for a Colts-Patriots rivalry without there being a Peyton Manning, who last took a snap in Indianapolis in 2010 and is into his third year of retirement from the NFL. His successor in Indy, Luck, is certainly a franchise quarterback of immense talent. But his supporting cast and surgically repaired right shoulder are always concerns. After a slow start on Thursday, he put a scare into New England, though dropped to 0-6 lifetime versus the Patriots.
Edelman averaged nearly seven catches a game from 2013-2016, but is 32 and missed all last season following his knee surgery. So there was uncertainty.
Brady quickly got it out of the way what everybody wanted to see -- Edelman making a catch. On New England’s first offensive snap, Brady resumed his long-interrupted game of catch with Edelman, hitting his slot man for nine yards. Edelman had three catches for 28 yards during the opening drive that concluded with a 1-yard TD catch by Cordarrelle Patterson.