They turned it into a smash hit
FOXBOROUGH -- They punched them in the mouth and when they got up they punched them in the mouth again until they didn't want to get hit any more. That's how the New England Patriots pulled off arguably the second-greatest victory in what has become one of the great stretches in pro football history.
It was not poetry in motion last night at Razor Blade Field. It was not about lyric little bandboxes or odes to summertime. This was rap music and a kick in the teeth.
The Patriots punished the Indianapolis Colts' defense until it couldn't take it anymore, hitting it with a power running game that controlled the clock for nearly 40 minutes, controlled the Colts' offense as well by keeping it standing on the sideline and, most importantly, controlled the line of scrimmage. On a cold, snowy afternoon in which passing was difficult for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the Patriots simply kept hitting the Colts with Corey Dillon and a bruising offensive line until they caved in during an 8-minute-16-second drive in the third quarter and a 7-minute-24-second drive in the fourth that turned a tight game in which nobody seemed to be doing much of anything into a beating both physical and mental.
In the final 30 minutes of this AFC divisional playoff game, the Patriots held the ball for 21:26, but they did not merely hold it. They drove it down the throats of the Colts' defense, leaving Indianapolis's offense gagging with only 8:34 to do something about it. What they did with the ball when they got it was choke on it.
"We did what we do best," Patriots fullback Patrick Pass said after the 20-3 thrashing had been administered. "We played hard-nosed, physical football. We got a 230-pound bruiser [Dillon] who ran for over 1,600 yards. Why not give him the ball?"
That is exactly what New England did because it was exactly what it needed to do. Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis stole a page from mentor Bill Parcells's playbook, using much the same plan he devised to beat the explosive Buffalo Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV. That afternoon in Tampa, the Giants ran the ball down the Bills' throats, controlling the clock for 40:33 and keeping it away from Jim Kelly's K-Gun offense just enough to hold on.
The score was far from that close yesterday but the plan was much the same. New England held the ball for 37 minutes and 43 seconds, rushing 39 times for 210 yards, including 144 by Dillon, and converting six of eight third-down opportunites in the second half during the stretch when the game was decided.
The Patriots' physical offensive line ground the Colts' defensive front into pumice, especially during a 14-play, 94-yard drive in the fourth quarter that consumed nearly 7 1/2 minutes as well as all the resolve the Colts had left.
"On that long drive we were able to break 'em down a little bit," Patriots center Dan Koppen said. "Bill came in at halftime and told us we had to play our best 30 minutes of football and we went out and were able to control the line of scrimmage. That 94-yard drive probably tells it all. We just kept on 'em. We kept pushing them around, giving Corey some running room."
Both Dillon and Kevin Faulk (11 carries, 56 yards, 5.1 per carry) found that room mostly between the tackles, slamming into the center of the Colts' defense rather than attacking its edges until it began to crumble. In the end, Dillon would pile up 64 of his yards on those two long marches, the final crowning moment a 27-yard run in which he finally had beaten down the Colts to the point where they could take no more.
"The Colts are not a very big team," Pass said. "They average 260, 265 along the front and we got some big guys on our line, a bunch of physical guys who love to run the ball in the red zone. I guess they want to show they can beat up on people. By the end [the Colts] were huffing and puffing. They got worn down. You don't get worn down making plays."
And plays is what the Patriots' offense, especially Dillon and the line in front of him, made in the second half. Time after time they drove off the ball and pushed the Colts' front four back into its linebackers, taking away Indianapolis's best defensive asset -- its team speed and lateral pursuit -- by drive blocking straight at them and sending Dillon and Faulk behind those blocks. To survive Indianapolis had to hold its ground, but that's difficult to do when you're on your back or twisted sideways with a back as powerful as Dillon coming in behind those blocks.
"I thought they were a little more physical than we were today, especially in the second half," said Colts coach Tony Dungy, whose team has lost six straight to the Patriots. "I thought they outplayed us as much as any of the other games since I've been here. They didn't hurt us so much in the passing game other than on a couple of critical third-down throws. Dillon and Faulk. That's where they hurt us."
No, that's where they killed you, Coach. Killed your season, killed your dreams, killed perhaps your future because how many times can you be run over by a steam engine before you conclude it's something you simply cannot handle?
"We've got to get Dillon down and we weren't able to do that," Dungy continued. "We let them control a lot of the clock. It was pretty simple football. The second half was just a two-tight-end running game that got them going and we didn't handle it. They were able to just run the ball. You know a team runs for 200 yards on you, you're going to have a tough time winning."
To be frank, you're going to have no chance of winning, especially when your own offense is doing nothing on the ground, little in the air, and deciding not to attack the defense with its strength. New England came out on offense and decided it could run and did it. The Colts, who had lived all year by attacking with the pass, yesterday grew timid. Or, perhaps, they got intimidated into being timid.
They got hit in the face and they not only didn't like it, they didn't know what to do about it so they got hit again and again until they finally were flattened by an offense that played like a road grader.
"We played good enough to lose," said battered Colts defensive end Raheem Brock. "All they do is execute. That's it."
Last night that's what the Patriots' offensive line in particular did. It executed the Indianapolis Colts.