Gresh's Grades: Honors for making the final four
ON TO THE NEXT
A thumping win for the Pats that puts them in the Final Four. This game was about the defense, the running game, and physical toughness. LeGarrette Blount ruled the day with his punishing running style; defensively, holding Indy to just 20 points (the safety doesn't count against them) was a nice performance with some young guys stepping up into starring roles. The challenge this week is massive, but if they follow up on the good from this Divisional Round performance, the Pats have a real chance to go to the Super Bowl .
I know people love it when Tom Brady throws it all over the lot, but when you have over 400 yards of offense, 6 rushing touchdowns, and go 61 percent on third down, style points go out the window. The offensive line did an outstanding job of not only protecting TB12, but playing physical in the run game. They were great in the red area and goal-line situations. They need more of a passing game to beat and score with Denver, but when the Pats puts their mind to it, they can run on anybody.
TB12 was sacked twice but was kept pretty clean in the pocket. There was no real chance to go up tempo but I thought Brady's game operation was spot on as usual. He did an excellent job in play action, as well. The ball was wet throughout the night but he handled it spectacularly, and made good decisions at the line of scrimmage.
RUNNING BACKS: A+
Blount has been so much more than I ever expected. Twenty-six snaps, 24 carries. It’s because he’s now a north-south runner with a little pause at the line of scrimmage, showing patience as he waits for an opening. He also runs TO contact and runs THROUGH contact, all while taking care of the ball. You have to form tackle this guy and few want that task. Stevan Ridley did an outstanding job of continuing to push Blount for playing time, all while regaining the trust of the fans and coaching staff. Shane Vereen is waiting for his chance which could come this week. Excellent job by this group.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
The wet conditions contributed to reduced throwing attempts. That and the fact that the offense ran the hell out of the ball, slowed these guys down. Julian Edelman is the No. 1 receiver and got a pass-interference call worthy for a 100-catch player. Danny Amendola has a nice chunk play off play-action, but not much else. They blocked well on the outside but need a third amigo to help this offense. I still am waiting for some burst from Amendola.
TIGHT ENDS: A
A lot like last week, Michael Hoomanawanui caught the only pass to come his way. Matthew Mulligan from Maine did a nice job in run blocking. And they didn’t show up negatively. I’d like to see a goal-line presence at some point but beggars can’t be choosers. Good work.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A+
This was still an A+ even though they gave up two sacks because the running all night long was 1980’s like. Power running game with all five up front knocking people on their ass, which I love. The goal-line effort was championship-like as they paved the way for Ridley and Blount early and often. Big challenge next week, but they’re up to it.
While they gave up some chunkers in the passing game, this group got to Andrew Luck for three sacks and four turnovers, some of which turned into points. The secondary played well overall, minus some issues here and there. What I liked is that they were physical with the WR’s, forcing them to work to get into route. They kept a nice steady pressure on Luck throughout the night, all while not losing contain. Some young guys stepped up and played nice games. Six of the Colts' 14 drives were three-and-outs. The draft-day trade by Bill Belichick to get multiple defensive players is playing off.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
This group led the charge in keeping the Colts running attack on the shelf, holding them to 69 yards. Luck had only one run for five yards. Outstanding job of not letting him out of the pocket. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano were able to work off the extra attention paid to Chandler Jones for their sacks, and Sealver Siliga continues to be a future rotation player next year with his play.
DO NOT buy into talk-show rhetoric that Dont'a Hightower can’t play. Now that the coaches have found his best role (which is the Brandon Spikes role), you can see him flourish. He did a nice job staying at home in coverage and it allows his natural instincts to come out. Jaime Collins had a coming-out party, showing great cover skills and the ability to tackle in open space. These guy can play and will only get better when Jerod Mayo is back next year. Keep wishing on Dane Fletcher, y’all. He’s just a special teamer.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-
I have to deduct for the chunk plays and the LaVon Brazill touchdowns. Other than that, Aqib Talib looked like his old self for a night and at times dominated. Alfonzo Dennard got picked on some, but did a nice job of reading Luck for his picks. Logan Ryan continues to impress. He replaced Dennard at one point; later, when Kyle Arrington had some issues, he stayed in with Dennard coming back on the field. The safeties played well minus the one splitter by Brazill. Overall a solid, and healthy looking performance.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Stephen Gostkowski get an A for his efforts punting after Ryan Allen got hurt. He also pounded seven touchbacks on eight kickoffs while handling all the kicking duties and dealing with a new holder. Well done. The bad here is that there were too many penalties and, of course, the play where they gave up two points and Allen got hurt. Fix it now, boys; we don’t need any carryover to this week.
IT AIN'T BROKE . . .
1) The running game and it’s ability to win for you. 2) Coaching. Masterful. Just masterful. 3) No panic. Punters hurt, holders hurt, rain and wind, no problem for this crew.
. . . BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Special teams penalties. 2) No more pass plays of 20 yards or more. 3) Tackling. Not many misses but it needs to be perfect to advance.
Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for nine years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the recently released book "The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists." Follow him on twitter @greshandzo.