By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We all love a good narrative, but the reality is when games begin, the storylines essentially end. What decides games every Sunday is the skill, talent, smarts and execution from one team being superior to the other. Past grudges and bad blood can’t score touchdowns or make tackles.
So as much fun as it may be to bang the “Revenge Tour” drum this week ahead of New England’s trip to Indianapolis, the reality is that the impact of any lingering rage from Tom Brady will ultimately be minimal on the final outcome.
What will impact the result of the game is the performance of the teams, and it’s in that area where it’s easy to believe the Patriots will find great success on Sunday night.
The Colts are 3-2. They have a minus-14 point differential on the season. That’s despite playing the Bills, Jets, Titans, Jaguars and Texans — five teams with a combined record of 9-14.
The Patriots are 4-0. They have a plus-73 point differential on the season. Their opponents have likewise been bad (combined 9-11 record), but their record and point differential reflects that.
The Colts rank 28th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. Again, that’s despite facing offenses that rank 24th (Buffalo), 19th (Jacksonville), 16th (Tennessee), 14th (Jets) and fifth (Houston) in the NFL in yards gained.
Offensively, the Patriots rank first yards per game.
The Colts rank 28th in pass yards allowed, despite facing Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blake Bortles, a Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer combination, and rookie Marcus Mariota.
The Patriots rank first in passing yards per game and second in points scored per game.
The Colts rank 19th in rushing yards allowed. They’ve faced two good rushing offenses (Buffalo ranks sixth, the Jets rank seventh), one mediocre rushing offense (Tennessee ranks 14th) and two poor rushing offenses (Houston ranks 20th, Jacksonville 21st).
New England currently ranks 23rd in rushing yards per game, but they’re tied for fifth with six rushing touchdowns.
The Colts rank 29th in sacks, with six. (The Patriots have 16 sacks and have played one fewer game than Indianapolis.) The Colts failed to rack up sacks despite facing three teams (Buffalo, Jacksonville, Tennessee) that are tied for having allowed the seventh-most sacks. (The Colts tallied four sacks against those three teams; the Patriots recorded 10 sacks in their two games vs. Jacksonville and Buffalo.)
The Colts rank 31st with a minus-7 turnover differential. The Patriots are tied for fifth with a plus-5 differential, losing just two fumbles and throwing zero interceptions through four games.
Past meetings don’t necessarily mean a tremendous amount when teams are facing each other in a new year. Yet the rosters of both teams haven’t experienced tremendous turnover from last season, and provided Andrew Luck plays, the quarterback/coach tandems remain in order. (Jonas Gray is gone, but Jonas Gray is not Jim Brown, and Dion Lewis is an upgrade.) Plus, the lopsided results were too glaring to disregard.
In two games last season, the Patriots outscored the Colts by a combined score of 87-27.
The Patriots gained 900 yards, compared to the Colts’ 531 yards.
The Patriots gained 423 yards on the ground; the Colts gained 102.
Despite the immense success running the ball, the Patriots still managed to put up some serious passing stats.
In those games:
Andrew Luck: 35-for-72 (48.6 percent), 429 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
Tom Brady: 42-for-65 (64.6 percent), 483 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs
Rob Gronkowski, in the two games, caught seven passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Julian Edelman caught 14 passes for 148 yards. (He also returned three punts for 71 yards, and he had three rushes for 43 yards.)
Of course, the backstory of DeflateGate cannot be ignored. As stated earlier, being angry doesn’t grant football players an instant ability to play well, but still, there’s little doubt that motivation levels will be maxed out in the Patriots locker room.
The Colts players didn’t ask for this. After all, it wasn’t the players who fired off emails to NFL officials about air pressure in footballs, and it wasn’t the players who barged into a box for NFL officials during the championship game, and it wasn’t the players who launched a campaign that led to a federal court case. It was at least one member of the Colts or the NFL front office who tried to pin it on the players by leaking “news” that D’Qwell Jackson noticed the football felt underinflated after his interception in January. This was, of course, a heaping pile of nonsense, and it speaks to how little the involvement of the players was in the whole whistle-blowing situation.
In that regard, there are reasons to feel sympathy for the players who will take the field for the Colts on Sunday night. Certainly, the Patriots won’t feel any desire to take it easy on the Colts, and if the game goes the way a game should go between two teams with such great disparities, it ought to be an interesting to see how the Patriots choose to proceed. A message to the owner and the general manager of Indianapolis’ football team might be in order.
Yet, given Indianapolis’ struggle to stop the Patriots’ running game, “running up the score” may really be as simple as handing off to LeGarrette Blount.