FOXBORO Two games ago the Patriots threw a blanket over the St. Louis Rams offense, allowing seven points in Wembley Stadium in a 38-point blowout win.
A glimmer of hope? No. Just headlights from a freight train in a tunnel. The Bills came into Foxboro last week and smashed the notion the Patriots defense was all fixed by putting up 31 points and 481 yards of offense in a too-close-for-comfort, 37-31 loss to the Patriots.
Thats worth remembering in the wake of the Patriots electric effort against Indy and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck on Sunday. After a flat start, the Patriots defense made it hard for Luck, forcing four turnovers, returning two Luck throws for touchdowns and allowing just a field goal as a 14-7 deficit at the end of one turned into a 45-17 advantage by the end of the third.
All fixed? Probably not. Better. No doubt.
After weeks of passive defense in the secondary where receivers would wind up uncovered and DBs would look at each other with upturned hands as if to say, I thought you had him there were no occasions of Colts receivers running free.
And, of the 27 passes Luck completed (21 after the first quarter), the vast majority were on tight fits. The Patriots played faster and with more confidence than they have all season.
Obviously, weve been catching a little criticism but we know the type of players we have on the back end and what were capable of and I think today showed a little bit of that, said safety Steve Gregory. "But the thing for us is being consistent and thats what we have to focus on. We have to get in there and correct things. Theres some things we didnt do that well and in a game like this, sometimes things go unnoticed. We have to go in, get those things corrected and be consistently that way every week. Play like this every week. And thats what were going to focus on.
The presence of Aqib Talib and his aggressive style seemed to rub off on the rest of the secondary. Talib gave up his share two touchdowns went to his man but the Patriots seemed comfortable having a cover corner they could move around and get innovative with. And the safety play so horrid in terms of support picked up as well.
Aggression and confidence seemed to carry the day in the secondary.
Playing fast comes with experience, said Gregory. Obviously we have some young guys out there but you have to find a way to play free and fast within the scheme of the defense. You cant go beyond yourself and leave an area open where thats your responsibility. Its about picking and choosing and knowing those times when you can go beyond and do a little bit more. For us today, we did a great job of that. We made a lot of plays and you see the results.
With Talib starting at one corner and Alfonzo Dennard on the other side after Kyle Arrington picked up a 40-yard pass interference on the opening Colts drive, the Patriots suddenly have two players on the outside who are known for their coverage ability, not their versatility. And thats a good thing. Theres confidence on the outside with those two and communication continues to improve.
We had a good week of practice, said Talib. We put a lot of emphasis on that in practice - communication and playing fast. We coulda did better today. We gave up some stuff. We felt good today but it can be better.
It already is better than it was.
I think we settled in, said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. Obviously they gave us their best shot early. Everything they were doing, they game plan just like we do. You dont want to give up those drives, especially the first drive, you want to get the offense the ball. So its just another one of those, Hey, lets watch the tape and see the things we werent doing correctly. I was happy that we were able to settle down and stop them there towards the end and then we were able to just kind of keep rolling on that momentum there.
The first Colts drive ended with T.Y. Hilton scoring on an in-cut at the back of the end zone with Talib in coverage.
On the short one, I just got undercut at the goal line, Talib explained. I didnt play good technique. I let him widen me and then cut back inside.
As for the second touchdown Talib allowed a 43-yarder to Hilton - Talib said, I didnt have my eyes in the right spot. My eyes were exactly where they shouldnt be, on the quarterback, so I watched him throw a touchdown on me, thats what I did, so Just gotta get a lot better.
Hes a cog in a broken machine. Hes not enough to fix the Patriots secondary all alone. But his presence Sunday made the whole operation more smooth. And with the calendar soon to flip to December, its not a minute too soon if youre a Patriots fan.