Sunday, October 18, 2015

Patriots take air out of Colts after bizarre punt formation backfires on Indy

This time, the Indianapolis Coltsdidn’t get embarrassed by

the New England Patriots. The Colts managed to embarrass themselves instead.

A bizarre, failed attempt at trickery on a punt play was a turning point as the Colts squandered a well-played first half and lost – again – to the New England Patriots 34-27 in Sunday night’s anticipated rematch of January’s AFC championship game rout.

The Colts led 21-20 at halftime and were down 27-21 with a little over a minute remaining in the third quarter when they shifted out of punt formation on fourth-and-3 from their own 37-yard line, leaving receiver Griff Whalenover the ball and safety Colt Anderson under center.

The Patriots kept a player on each side of Whalen and two more behind them. But Whalen snapped the ball anyway to Anderson, who didn’t seem to be expecting it and was grabbed immediately by Patriots running back Brandon Bolden for a 1-yard loss.

Officials also flagged the Colts for illegal formation, since none of the shifted players were on the line of scrimmage, but that was the least of their problems. The Patriots took over and quickly marched for a touchdown to make it a 13-point game early in the fourth quarter.

A hearty throng of Patriots fans in the crowd chanted quarterback Tom Brady’s name before being shouted down by boos after his 11-yard touchdown pass to LeGarrette Blount made it 34-21. The atmosphere inside Lucas Oil Stadium never seemed the same.

The Colts pulled within seven on Andrew Luck’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Whalen with 1:19 to go. (Jamie Collins blocked the extra point.) But Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski recovered the onside kick to seal the decision.

That the Colts put up a better fight than in their 45-7 loss to the Patriots in January was of little consolation on a night that had loomed large since the schedule came out, given the Colts’ role in launching the saga known as Deflategate. It was Colts general manager Ryan Grigson who first emailed league officials, then complained in person during the second quarter of the AFC championship game that the Patriots were playing with an underinflated ball.

After a protracted investigation by attorney Ted Wells, the NFL docked the Patriots $1 million and two draft picks and suspended Brady, who steadfastly maintained his innocence. Brady wouldn’t have played until Sunday if a federal judge hadn’t overturned his four-game ban last month based on several due process issues. (The NFL’s appeal is pending.)

Brady was booed on numerous occasions Sunday, and a “CHEATERS EXIT HERE” banner hung next to the Patriots’ tunnel as they went in for halftime.

The Patriots drove 80 yards in seven plays on the opening drive of the third quarter, with Gronkowski – silent in the first half – catching a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brady that put New England ahead for good at th

e 10:56 mark.

The Colts had done well in a wild first half, capping their opening drive with a touchdown and fourth-and-1, turning a Julian Edelman bobble into a pick-six for safety Mike Adams and attempting an onside kick officials ruled the Patriots recovered. It was clear Colts coach Chuck Pagano was going to be aggressive at every turn.

That came back to haunt them on the failed fake, whatever it was supposed to be, and the Colts’ string of futility against the Patriots in the Pagano-Grigson-Luck era lives on.

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