By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Sorry, Chris Ballard. Sorry, Frank Reich. Sorry, Andrew Luck.
The rivalry is not back on.
Not even close.
The rivalry — such as it were — would be the one that once existed between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis football franchise. The days of that rivalry, despite Ballard’s declaration back in February, are long gone. Thursday night’s game at Gillette Stadium made that much as clear as possible.
It was instantly evident when the Colts exited the tunnel and hardly elicited any reaction from the home crowd. A stray boo or two could be heard, but most fans didn’t even acknowledge the entrance. And it was evident when Tom Brady and the offense marched 75 yards without any resistance on the opening drive to score a touchdown. And it only grew more clear when that 7-0 lead ballooned to a 24-3 advantage before halftime.
The Colts made it somewhat interesting in the second half, thanks to dropped passes from Patriots receivers that turned into interceptions for Indianapolis. But when pushed, the Patriots pulled away and won 38-24.
Sorry, Peyton Manning. Sorry, Tony Dungy. Sorry, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai. Apologies to Jim Caldwell. Sorry to Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest. Sorry to David Patten, Rodney Harrison and Ty Law.
And sorry to anyone who tuned in to Thursday night’s game hoping to see a moderately competitive football game. After Thursday’s result, the Colts are now 0-8 against New England, dating back to 2010.
That was when Rob Gronkowski was just a rookie, and not the best tight end of all time. Devin McCourty was also a rookie — and a cornerback. Tom Brady was a spry 33 years old.
The last time the Patriots lost a football game to the Colts was the night of the infamous fourth-and-2 decision by Bill Belichick. Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney (whose final NFL seasons were, respectively, 2011 and 2010) worked as New England’s running backs, while Randy Moss (now enshrined in Canton) and Wes Welker (out of the league in 2015) led the team in targets. For the Colts, Addai (retired, 2012) led the way on the ground, while Wayne (final NFL season: 2014) had a monster night with 126 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
That game took place 3,245 days ago. The Colts’ winless stretch against the Patriots will live on for at least 300 more. And likely many, many more.
Back then, thousands of days ago, the rivalry still existed. Now? Now there is no rivalry. Now the Colts simply serve as a perennial doormat for the Patriots to rub their feet on as they march their way to AFC dominance. Whether the Patriots reach that pinnacle again this year is yet to be determined. At the very least, they established that they’re still in a different class than the Colts.
In Indianapolis, the McDaniels saga won’t soon be forgotten or forgiven — especially if the Reich era ends up being unsuccessful. In New England, though, the near-departure of McDaniels is already largely considered to be a minor blip in the history books. It’s been “on to 2018” for quite some time.
And on Thursday night, there was no story line in New England about any sort of rivalry. Nobody discussed McDaniels’ offseason for more than a passing moment. No players spoke after the game of wanting to win for Josh. The only thing the Patriots players did on Thursday night was prove that they’re a much better collection of players than the ones wearing horseshoes on their helmets. That’s been the only consistent part of this “rivalry” for the better part of a decade.
The onslaught was even worse than the final score would indicate. The Patriots’ offensive strategy was downright insulting for the bulk of Thursday night, with five skilled players lining up wide, with sizable gaps between them. It looked like street football, where the strategy was, largely, “someone will get open.” Almost every time, somebody did.
It was borderline disrespectful.
Brady was 23-for-27 for 203 yards and two touchdowns at halftime, and one of those incompletions was a drop on a pass that would have gone for a 20-yard gain and led to more points.
Indy was lucky to only lose by two touchdowns.
Now the Colts, sitting at 1-4, are looking at a fourth straight season missing the postseason. They appear to be in the midst of a rebuild, one which they never should have had to endure, not after calculatedly losing to draft Andrew Luck and making progressive steps deeper into the postseason each year from 2012 through 2014.
They’ve gone 21-32 since then. And they’re still senselessly celebrating the most minor of accomplishments.
Clearly, the Colts have a lot of things they need to worry about. The “rivalry” doesn’t even make the list.