Despite yesterday's beatdown at the hands of the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts at 6-4 still control their own destiny. If the playoffs began today, the Colts would still be in as a wild card team, same as they were last week. And yes, that's still an amazingly improbable turn of events that few, if any, saw coming when this season started.
That said, their margin for error is now slim. Yesterday's loss combined with Houston's overtime win pretty much took care of any remote hopes the Colts had for catching the Texans for the AFC South title. Cincinnati won and moved within a game of the Colts for the final AFC Wild Card spot. The Colts need to take care of business against the teams left on their schedule with inferior records if they want to have a chance to return to Foxboro in January.
Andrew Luck played a good, not great game yesterday. For a rookie, it was more than an adequate performance. The problem was the Colts needed great yesterday.
Great was on the other sideline. Tom Brady consistently located the mismatches in the Colts' coverages and sliced and diced them all day long. He found where Josh Gordy was on third down and when the Colts brought pressure, he found Rob Gronkowski in single coverage where he simply cannot be defended. Brady's ability to pick out those mismatches with such regularity is not normal. He rarely throws into double coverage because he knows somewhere on the field he has a one-on-one matchup. He trusts his pinpoint accuracy to make the throws. If you try to blitz him, as the Colts did several times, you had better get there because the blitz creates single coverage all over the field.
The other great, of course, is Bill Belichick. Nobody gets more out of his players than him. He takes "bad boys" like Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard and gets them to buy into the Patriots' system. His depth has depth, as shown by the offensive line's ability to protect Brady yesterday despite being without two starting guards. That's why the Patriots win year-in, year-out.
A lot of Colts fans are upset that Belichick kept his foot on the pedal despite being up four scores in the fourth quarter. Like it or not, that's just the way Belichick coaches. It's not necessarily unsportsmanlike. This is the NFL, not high school. The other team's defense is paid well to stop the offense for 60 minutes and the coach has no obligation to make sure everyone gets to play. Save that for the level of football where the team moms hand out orange slices after the game.
Belichick does have an obligation, however, to look out for the best interests of his team. Rob Gronkowski broke his arm blocking on the final Patriots' extra point attempt. Having him in there exposed (or Brady for that matter) just isn't very smart, especially considering the Pats have a short week this week heading into New York. It wasn't karma that bit Belichick yesterday, it was intransigence. Now he'll be without his best receiver for perhaps the remainder of the regular season.
Other thoughts on Week 11 in the NFL:
- Byron Leftwich is one tough SOB. He's just not a very good quarterback any more. Pittsburgh and Baltimore hit each other harder than any other matchup in the NFL.
- Chad Henne had Jacksonville on the verge of the biggest upset of the season, but the Jags fell apart, blowing a 10 point fourth quarter lead. Even if Blaine Gabbert is healthy next week, why play him? Henne is clearly the better quarterback right now.
- Cleveland, Carolina, Arizona and Detroit also blew leads and lost games. The NFL game is 60 minutes (or longer in the case of Cleveland and Carolina). You better know how to close the deal to win in this league.
- I'm sad for Andy Reid. He's been the best coach the Eagles have ever had, so it's sad to see his tenure end this way. Coupled with his son's death during training camp, I can't imagine the toll the past few months have taken on him. Here's hoping he takes a year away from the game and rests. After that, some team is going to get themselves a very good coach.
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