Poor Sergio Brown.
Even with an injury-riddled secondary, Brown found himself on the bench while a street free agent (Nate Jones) and a backup wide receiver and special teams captain (Matt Slater) started at safety against the Colts.
That was the type of defensive “talent” on the field for the Patriots in their 31-24 win over the Manning-less Colts Sunday afternoon.
While the score was close, in reality the game was long out of hand by the time the Colts scored in the fourth quarter.
For the most part, the maligned secondary did a decent job, although it certainly won’t leave Bill Belichick pleased that the immortal Dan Orlovsky was able to throw for 353 yards and two touchdowns.
Although the defense was typically frustrating at times, the offense looked like a well-oiled machine in the second and third quarters. Tom Brady was given plenty of time to operate and the receivers and tight ends had no problem finding space in the Colts’ porous zone defense.
That said, let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.
1. Rob Gronkowski: Size, speed, strength, athleticism…whatever you want to call it, the man knows how to make plays. Gronkowski literally looked like a high school stud picking on the middle school team. For some unearthly reason, the Colts let Gronkowski release down the seam twice for touchdowns in the red zone. Maybe their tiny safeties didn’t want to get run over, but either way, Gronk made them pay with two receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown on a lateral to tie the TE record for most receiving TDs in a season. That will be broken next week.
2. Vince Wilfork: As productive as Andre Carter and Mark Anderson have been on the edges, fans and analysts alike have seem to forget how good Wilfork is. The eight-year veteran listed at a svelte 325 pounds produced one of his best games in recent memory, posting 10 tackles and a sack. The shift from the 3-4 to the 4-3 has left Big Vince on the field far more than in the past, but without him clogging up running lanes and pushing the pocket on third down, the middle of the defense would struggle.
3. Jerod Mayo: Often regarded as one of Belichick’s biggest draft hits, Mayo certainly has been a terrific tackling machine. When it comes to big plays…not so much. Last year’s all-pro inside linebacker flashed his athleticism and aggression on Sunday, putting together a complete performance. The former 10th overall pick in 2008 recorded his first career interception, seven tackles and two quarterback hits, including a vicious knockdown on Orlovsky that may draw a league fine. That’s the Mayo we’ve been waiting for.
1. Devin McCourty: I know he missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, but there is real cause for concern when it comes to last year’s first-round pick. A year after earning a rare rookie Pro Bowl selection, McCourty has been burned all year long by both good and bad quarterbacks. He gives receivers far too much of a cushion and has rarely made plays on the ball. Even his run defense has taken a clear step back. Let’s hope he can regain his rookie form and doesn’t continue the Darius Butler trend.
2. Run game: Sure, Tom Brady carved up the secondary like a Thanksgiving Day feast, but the Colts entered with the 31st ranked run defense. New England’s total output: 73 yards. If this team is going to make a deep playoff run, it has to establish a consistent rushing attack. With Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly out, it certainly didn’t help, but with so many backs on the roster, you would hope at least one of them stands out from the pack. Instead, they averaged 3.0 yards per carry. Not good enough, fellas.