INDIANAPOLIS -- The New England Patriots got their revenge in Sunday night's victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, posting a 34-27 victory. The turning point of the game came in two areas that are especially close to head coach Bill Belichick's heart: special teams and responding on the fly to unconventional plays.
The Patriots underwent a significant change this offseason when special teams coach Scott O'Brien retired. At the time, Belichick said, “I have never worked with a coach better than Scott O'Brien.”
With that as the backdrop, consider what unfolded late in the third quarter when the Colts attempted to trick the Patriots with an unusual formation on a fourth-and-3 punt attempt. It turns out the Colts fooled only themselves, the Patriots adjusted accordingly with running back Brandon Bolden tackling safety Colt Anderson for a loss of one yard.
Had Bolden not made the play, the Colts would have eventually punted and the field position would have shifted considerably.
Instead, the Patriots took over on the Colts' 35-yard line, turned it into a quick touchdown to take a 34-21 lead, and never looked back.
That's a credit to first-year special teams coach Joe Judge, who was an understudy to O'Brien for three years before taking over in 2015. And also to the players for responding in the moment.
When it was over, quarterback Tom Brady (23-of-37 for 312 yards, 3 TDs, 1 interception) went directly over to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to shake his hand. This was a game Brady wanted badly, and the Patriots needed all three phases -- offense, defense and most importantly special teams -- to ensure the result for him.
What it means: The Patriots improve to 5-0 and, in the process, have scored 183 points this season to break their franchise record through the first five games of a season (182 in 2007). They have been atop ESPN's “Power Rankings” since Week 2 of the season and this performance should solidify their standing there for another week. Next up: Another rivalry game, at home against the Jets.
Ouch: Starting left tackle Marcus Cannon, who was playing in place of Nate Solder (season-ending IR), injured his toe and left the game after the first series. He didn't return. Also, No. 3 defensive end Jabaal Sheard injured his ankle and didn't play the entire second half. Meanwhile, receiver Julian Edelman's pinky finger was bent awkwardly in the first half; he had it taped and played through it. Also, NBC reported that special teams captain Matthew Slater had his right knee looked at on the sideline and several players were coming over to Slater to offer their concern.
One reason to get excited: Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are playing at a high level. This was arguably the biggest test of the season for the Patriots' new 1-2 punch at cornerback, and they responded well. The Patriots didn't have too many concerns at the cornerback spot last year with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner as the 1-2 punch, and they've been trying to piece it together this year with lesser experienced players with high upside. They answered the challenge on Sunday night.
One reason to be concerned: Injuries at offensive tackle. With starter Nate Solder lost for the season, and his replacement Cannon sidelined after the first series, the depth is thin. That had the Patriots flipping Sebastian Vollmer from right tackle to left tackle, and inserting Cameron Fleming -- the 2014 fourth-round pick who was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday -- at right tackle. Credit to Vollmer and Fleming for holding their ground, but reinforcements may be needed.
What were they thinking? This category is reserved solely for one thing from this game -- the Colts' decision to tinker with their punt formation late in the third quarter. That was the turning point, and the Patriots never looked back from there.
Fantasy watch: LeGarrette Blount rewarded owners with a two-touchdown performance -- 38-yard run and 11-yard catch -- as he played 29 snaps. Dion Lewis led the Patriots with 35 snaps, but Blount's power took over in the second half.
Gronk is good. Tight end Rob Gronkowski had been shut out of the end zone in the two games leading into this one, and history indicated it was going to be hard to keep him out a third straight game. The last time Gronkowski went three straight games without a touchdown was 2011, his second year in the NFL. Gronkowski's 25-yard catch-and-run score early in the third quarter gave him 60 for his career, as he became the fastest tight end to reach that mark in NFL history (70 games).
Patriots fans are heard: Once again, Patriots fans made their presence felt on the road, as chants of “Brady! Brady! Brady!” were heard at times during the game; they were arguably most audible after Blount's 11-yard touchdown catch. Colts fans, many of whom emptied out late in the fourth quarter, quickly responded with a chorus of boos.