FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After months of saying little about the Deflategate controversy that the Indianapolis Colts ignited last January during the AFC Championship Game here, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady let his actions do the talking Sunday in a title game rematch in Indianapolis.
The story took over the Super Bowl MVP's offseason, and hung over the entire NFL for months. Still, Brady said very little publicly even after his four-game suspension was vacated by a federal court judge.
Even this past week, Brady played close to the vest, trying to convince the media that he had no extra motivation heading into the battle with a Colts team that had been struggling a bit to open the new season.
But after Brady's Patriots stayed undefeated with the 34-27 over the Colts, the quarterback's subdued postgame comments seemed to indicate, for whatever reason, that he was a bit disappointed with the road victory.
In all likelihood, his tone and comments paralleled those of the fans of Patriots Nation, a passionate group that was clearly anticipating a bloodbath Brady-led blowout that just never came to fruition.
"I thought we all could've done a better job tonight," Brady said Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. "Not very good on third down. I thought we left a lot of yards and certainly some points out there."
The comments came after the quarterback threw for 312 yards and a trio of touchdowns
"I thought our execution was off at times," Brady said. "It's a good win. Glad we won. It's always good to win on the road."
But his heart and fire just weren't into the comments. He and his teammates finally had the chance to take it to the Colts and earn some sort of revenge for Deflategate and didn't get the blood they and their fans likely thirsted for.
In the long run, it won't matter. The Patriots remain the AFC favorite for the Super Bowl. Brady is having one of his best seasons at the age of 38. And, for now, Deflategate is a somewhat forgotten footnote playing its way out in the court system.
While not saying much last week, Brady admitted he's very much human and not a robot. Humans feel pain and often seek revenge. Brady felt plenty of the former this offseason, but Sunday seemed disappointed he wasn't able to bask in much of the latter.
Running back LeGarrette Blount talked about Brady's legendary competitive streak, one that's evident both in losses, and in this case, non-blowouts.
"He's a fierce competitor," Blount said. "He doesn't like losing. No matter who it's against. He's going to come out with that mentality to win every single game no matter who that opponent is."
And Brady will get another chance to exert any lingering frustration on Sunday in Foxborough as another rival, the upstart 4-1 Jets, come to town with first place in the AFC East on the line.
"We left a lot of things out there. There are a lot of things we could do a lot better," wide receiver Julian Edelman said, echoing the disappointment of his good friend Brady and turning the page. "This is a good win and all, but it's over and we're looking forward to playing again."
REPORT CARD VS. COLTS
--PASSING OFENSE: B-plus. Tom Brady may not have been too pumped about the production from his passing attack, but the quarterback did lead another impressive night for the Patriots. Brady completed 23 of his 37 passes for 312 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 104.8 passer rating. The interception was Brady's first of the season, coming on a drop/deflection from Julian Edelman, who appeared to deal with a finger injury after his first-quarter 12-yard touchdown. Danny Amendola led the pass-catchers with seven receptions for 105 yards, his fourth career 100-yard effort with the Patriots. Rob Gronkowksi was shut out by the Colts in the first half when he was targeted just once, but the All-Pro got things going on the first drive of the second quarter when he notched a 25-yard catch-and-run touchdown, finishing with three catches for 50 yards. LeGarrette Blount also added a rare reception, an 11-yard touchdown in the second half. New England's protection was OK for most of the night, despite playing without LT Nate Solder (IR/biceps) and losing backup Marcus Cannon (toe) in the first quarter. The group allowed just two sacks. Brady and his targets seek perfection, but even when they come up short of that goal they are pretty impressive in their production.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B. The Patriots had rushed for 40-plus carries in each of the last three blowouts of the Colts. But the ground game was less of a focal point against an improved Indianapolis rush defense this time around. Still, New England finished with 25 attempts for 116 yards and a 4.6-yard average. Blount led the way with 16 carries for 93 yards (5.8 average), a big chunk coming on his 38-yard touchdown scamper off right tackle. Dion Lewis had 21 yards on his four attempts. The New England rushing attack remained in its usual role as a complementary aspect of the offense, even against a Colts team it has run ridiculously well against in the recent past. But the group made enough of its limited chances to balance out the attack in the road victory.
--PASS DEFENSE: B. There is no question the Patriots' secondary is a major work in progress, even more so after placing veteran Tarell Brown (foot) on injured reserve and claiming Rashaan Melvin off waivers. The Colts tried to attack that perceived weakness by spreading things out and using the team's many pass-catching weapons in the return of Andrew Luck. It worked early on, especially with Luck and his injured right shoulder making short throws. But the Patriots defense adjusted in the second half, taking away some of the short stuff and pressuring Luck with just three and four rushers. The young passer's attempts downfield seemed to sail high and New England shut out the Colts in the second half until a very late score. Luck finished completing 30 of his 50 throws for 312 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions (although there were a number of close calls) for a 98.5 rating. He was sacked three times, including 2.5 from Chandler Jones. Dominique Easley added a half sack and key early pressure with his rush up the middle. Malcolm Butler had an up-and-down night dealing mostly with Donte Moncrief. Luck spread the ball around to 10 different targets, with Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton each notching six catches and a touchdown. The pass defense has plenty to work on, but if the pass rush can play like it did in Indianapolis against a suspect offensive line, the group will have a chance to improve as a unit moving forward.
--RUN DEFENSE: B. The Patriots played a somewhat undersized 4-2-5 look for most of the night at Lucas Oil Stadium in response to the Colts spread passing sets with one back. Given that and the team being without linebacker Dont'a Hightower, New England did a pretty solid job against the run, though the effort was helped out by a few holding calls that negated Frank Gore runs. Gore still finished with 78 yards on his 13 attempts for a 6.0-yard average. As a team, the Colts had 22 attempts for 120 yards, but four of those came on Luck scrambles that tallied 35 yards. The Colts wanted to throw. The Patriots wanted to stop them from throwing with too much efficiency. As such, the run game was a second thought for both teams. Matt Patricia's unit did a reasonably good job under such circumstances, although the running game did become even less a factor after New England got its 14-point lead in the second half.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: A minus. The Patriots may not have been perfect in the kicking game, but Indy's silly fake punt gave New England the major advantage. Brandon Bolden and the rest of the Patriots punt team was heady enough to deal with the Colts' unique formation and make the tackle, even though a penalty would have actually wiped the play out anyway. The Colts did catch the Patriots off guard with a surprise onside kick in the second quarter, though a quick signal from the officials gave New England the recovery even though replay showed there was no way Josh Kline actually corralled the loose ball. Stephen Gostkowski remained perfect on the season by hitting his two field goals (40, 35) and four PATs. He also put all seven kickoffs into the end zone with six touchbacks. Ryan Allen had a 44.8-yard net on five punts, including two down inside the 20. New England did have a couple penalties in the kicking game, including a block in the back on Devin McCourty that took away a long Julian Edelman punt return. If the Colts fake punt was the ugly wow play of the night, then Jamie Collins' block of a fourth-quarter Adam Vinatieri PAT was the eye-opening wow play. The linebacker jumped completely over the long snapper and landed in the backfield to easily block the kick, displaying his freakish athleticism in the process. New England's Rob Gronkowski recovered the ensuing onside kick to close the door on the Colts comeback hopes. Joe Judge's kicking personnel was impressive overall, especially compared to the Indy mistakes in the third phase.
--COACHING: A-minus. New England came out with some new game-plan wrinkles and second-half adjustments to clearly get the better of the coaching battle. Bill Belichick's troops on offense went to the air more often rather than attacking an improved Colts run defense. It worked. Defensively, the Patriots started slow and had some hiccups dealing with the Colts spread sets, but adjusted in the second half with an improved pass rush. The Patriots were basically ready for Chuck Pagano's strange fake punt call, and overall had a productive night/game plan in the kicking game. Belichick's team also overcame key changes to personnel along the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary in this AFC title game rematch and did so with limited fall-off. Another solid night for the game's best coach and his underrated coaching staff.