By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — The Patriots did what they needed to do on Thursday night, sending the Indianapolis Colts home very unhappy.
The final scoreboard read 38-24, and though it looked at halftime to be a rout-in-the-making, enough issues cropped up in the second half for the Patriots to give Bill Belichick and his coaching staff plenty to work with when the team gets back on the practice field next week in preparation for the Chiefs.
But with some extended time off in the meanwhile, here’s a look at the Ups and the Downs from the win that moved the Patriots to 3-2 on the season.
The 41-year-old quarterback was at his best on this night. He started the game 14-for-15 for 123 yards and a touchdown, and he also rushed for a one-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak. The one incompletion in that mix was a drop by a wide-open Julian Edelman.
The QB never really slowed down after that. He finished the night 34-for-44, for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He did get tagged with two interceptions, though both came after drops by receivers. Statistically, he took a hit. But on the field, he was as good as he’s been all year.
Brady also set an NFL record by completing a touchdown to the 71st different receiver of his career, and he became the third player to reach the 500-TD mark. Not a bad night for the QB.
Julian is back, and by and large, he looks like the same Julian. He was targeted on the first snap of the game, and he made the catch for a gain of nine yards right off the bat.
He did have the aforementioned drop, but he ended up catching seven of the nine passes thrown his way for 57 receiving yards. He also stepped right back into punt returning duties, breaking off a 15-yard return.
His presence on the field clearly helps create space for the rest of the offense, and Brady was clearly happy to see No. 11 lined up on the field all night long.
Adrian Clayborn/Patrick Chung
You’ve heard 3,000 times by now that good coverage is aided by good pressure, and vice versa. One play in the first half provided the perfect example.
On a second-and-3 at midfield, Adrian Clayborn lined up at right defensive end and ran a stunt, rushing in between the left guard and the center. Neither lineman could slow his progress, giving him a free lane to Andrew Luck. With Clayborn bearing down at full speed, Luck forced a throw to Nyheim Hines, and Luck missed badly.
Patrick Chung was in perfect position to make an interception, giving the Patriots an extra possession before halftime. The turnover not only kept the Colts from putting points on the board while trailing by 18, but it also allowed the Patriots to tack on a field goal before the break.
Sony Michel/James White
Rookie first-rounder Sony Michel broke out in a big way in Week 4, and he followed it up very well just four days later. Michel ran 18 times and picked up 98 yards. For the second straight week, he scored the touchdown that officially put the game out of reach, when he burst around the left corner, stiff-armed Matthias Farley, and sprinted up the left sideline for a 34-yard touchdown run.
James White was once again Brady’s most reliable outlet, as he caught 10 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. White continues to be a problem in the open field for opposing defenses.
Honorable Mention: Josh Gordon
Needing a score to quiet a Colts comeback, Brady chucked a deep ball to Gordon in double-coverage. Gordon came down with it in the end zone, and the Patriots doubled their lead to 14 points with 9:19 left in the game.
Honorable Mention: Devin McCourty
The Colts had a chance to close the Patriots’ lead to just one score in the third quarter. Devin McCourty — quite literally — ripped it away from them. Andrew Luck completed a short pass to Jordan Wilkins, and the running back was one-on-one with McCourty in the open field. McCourty wrapped up Wilkins, and as the back was falling to the turf, McCourty stripped the football right out of his hands and recovered it himself.
Considering this play came right after a Brady interception, and just after McCourty gave up a touchdown pass to Eric Ebron, it was a fairly significant one.
The Colts scored a touchdown in the third quarter to cut New England’s lead to 14 points. New England, though, was in the midst of responding when Tom Brady threw to an open Chris Hogan on a second-and-8 at the Colts’ 30-yard line.
The pass hit Hogan directly between the numbers, but he mishandled the pass. The ball bounced out of Hogan’s arms and right into Matthias Farley’s hand for an interception.
Hogan’s had an underwhelming season thus far. This play didn’t help that.
(On the Patriots’ next drive, Rob Gronkowski also dropped a pass that ended up being intercepted. Gronkowski and the coaches will say that the tight end should have held on to that ball, and he probably should have. But at least he was hit when he lost the ball.)
Julian was back. It was a celebration. And he was good. Buuuutttt, he did have a grisly drop up the left sideline in the first quarter on a play where he was wide open. Had he caught the pass, it would have gone for a gain of about 20 yards.
Instead of a fresh set of downs and the chance to improve upon their 7-0 lead at the time, the Patriots had to punt.
The momentum of the second half turned in a big way when the Patriots’ punt team allowed Chester Rogers to return a punt 33 yards up the middle of the field to set up the Colts at the New England 35-yard line.
Keion Crossen got blocked out of the play as soon as Rogers caught the punt, and Matthew Slater, Dwayne Allen, Nate Ebner and the rest of the coverage unit allowed Rogers to rush right up a seam in the middle of the field.
The Colts scored their first touchdown of the night just four players later, giving Indy some life and helping to make the game much closer than it needed to be.
His forced fumble only earned him an honorable mention, because his coverage on tight end Eric Ebron was rough stuff in the second half. It was clearly a problem when Ebron scored a touchdown while running a simple corner route past McCourty in the third, and it worsened from there. It was, quite simply, a rough stretch for McCourty.