Found November 19, 2012 on Boston Sports Then & Now:
Andrew Luck, left, and Tom Brady shake hands following the Patriots’ blowout win in their first meeting as professional quarterbacks. Over the past two years, the second half of the season has been very good to the Patriots. Coming into yesterday’s game against the Colts, they had played 17 games after the half-way point since 2010 and they had won them all. No team has more wins in the final eight games of the season during that span than the Pats. With Andrew Luck leading the surprising first-place Colts into Gillette Stadium on Sunday and the flexed start time allowing for primetime ratings, Tom Brady – the present – took on Luck – the future – in a battle of first place teams. As a rookie of the year candidate, Luck figured to have an enjoyable day against the 29th ranked pass defense of the Patriots. Easier said than done. The Patriots embarrassed the Colts as they put up a franchise-record 59 points to destroy their rivals by five touchdowns, 59-24. In what was a very offense-dominated 1st quarter, Luck led the Colts down the field after the Patriots won the coin toss and elected to defer to the 2nd half. Aided by a 40-yard pass interference penalty on Kyle Arrington after he got burned, Delone Carter ran in from one yard out to put Indy on top 7-0 just over four minutes in. The 7-play, 80-yard drive took 4:11 and resulted in just the third rushing TD by a Colts running back this year. Then it was Brady’s turn. With both starting guards out with injury, the makeshift offensive line looked pretty good, and it held all day as Brady was not sacked, as the team marched down the field for an 81-yard touchdown drive of their own capped off by Brady throwing a touchdown pass in his 42nd straight game from four yards out to Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman, who was huge on the day, chipped in with a big 3rd down catch and Gronk had a 36-yarder down the middle as well. Gronkowski, who would add another TD catch later on, now has 10 touchdown catches on the year and four straight games with at least one. With the game tied at seven, Indy again drove down the field and after he should have had his first pass of the drive picked off by Devin McCourty, Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton to reclaim the lead for the Colts. Hilton beat Aqib Talib, who was making his debut for the Patriots, on the play and Luck made a great throw, putting the ball where only his receiver could get it. There were three drives in the 1st quarter and each of them ended in a touchdown and each covered at least 80 yards. New England had converted on its first three 3rd downs, but came up short on their next possession. A missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal set the Colts up with decent field position, but they couldn’t do anything with it and were forced to kick it to Edelman, who returned the punt 68 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. It was Edelman’s third career punt return for a touchdown and his early contributions were big for the Pats. With the return, Edelman tied the Patriots record for the most career punt return touchdowns. After an illegal procedure penalty on former Patriot Sergio Brown forced a re-kick, the punt was low and Edelman caught it on the run before blazing up the sideline on his way to the endzone. Talib then quickly made amends for his lack of coverage on the earlier touchdown as he picked off Luck and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown to give the Pats their first lead of the game. It was the second return touchdown for the Pats in 1:01 of the 2nd quarter. Vince Wilfork applied the pressure on Luck and may have influenced the throw, which was way over the head of the intended receiver. New England scored a touchdown in all three phases of the game for the first time since Oct. 4, 2010 against the Dolphins. A big gain on 3rd down by LaVon Brazill kept the Colts’ next drive alive, got them into Patriots’ territory and a 9-yard gain by Donnie Avery on the next play set Indy up inside New England’s 30-yard line. More pressure on Luck, however, this time by Jermaine Cunningham, forced a field goal attempt for Indy this time. Greeted by boos, Adam Vinatieri knocked it home with plenty to spare from 47 yards out and the Patriots lead was cut to 21-17. After 32 minutes of real time, and 14 points on the board, Brady was back on the field. A balanced drive got them in the red zone and the Colts finally got some pressure on Brady, who was unable to convert on 3rd & 7 just before the two-minute warning. This time, Gostkowski was good from 31 yards out and the Pats were back on top by seven, 24-17. It was also the third straight game that New England put up 24 points in the 1st half. With a chance to get some points on the board at the end of the half, Luck converted some 3rd downs, but ultimately wasted too much time calling plays in the hurry-up offense and the Colts came up empty. Vinatieri hooked what would have been a career-long 58-yard field goal as time expired and the score at halftime was 24-17 in favor of the home team. His career-high remains 57 yards. The Colts offense actually outscored the New England offense in the half. Rookie Alfonzo Dennard made a nice play to break up a potential large gain on the drive. To open the half, Edelman picked up another big gain for 17 yards and a 1st down on 3rd & 11 with the help of a Sebastian Vollmer block. Stevan Ridley picked up his biggest gain of the day for 11 two plays later after a Welker 11-yard reception. Then, a 31-yard catch and run by Gronkowski set up 1st & goal. With a pre-snap read and possible audible, Brady hit Edelman for a 2-yard touchdown on a quick slant to the left for the second touchdown of the day for both. The TD pass marked the 10th season of Brady’s career that he has thrown for 20 or more TD passes – that’s good for fourth all-time. With 11 minutes left in the 3rd, the score was 31-17 New England. On the scoring drive, Gronkowski went over 100 yards receiving for the ninth time in his career, tying him with Ben Coates for the most 100-yard games by a tight end in New England history. His 37 TD catches in his first three years are good for the 3rd-most ever. Edelman’s TD catch marked the first time since 1985 that a Patriot has scored on a punt return and a reception in the same game. Indianapolis came up empty on their next drive, but did pin the Pats inside their own 5-yard line with a very well-placed punt by Pat McAfee. The Patriots’ offense couldn’t do anything with it and were forced to punt it back to the Colts for the first time on the day. And then, with both teams forgetting it was a shootout for a moment, Rob Ninkovich furthered his Pro Bowl bid as he hit Luck’s arm and forced the fumble. He recovered it himself and on the very next play, Brady hit Gronkowski for his second touchdown grab of the day. Gronk would finish with seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. It was 38-17 Pats on Brady’s third TD pass of the day. He would finish 24-35 for 331 yards and three scores. Yesterday marked three out of four games with multiple touchdown catches for Gronk. He also became the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 10+ touchdown seasons. Ninkovich tied Mike Vrabel‘s Patriots’ record with his fifth forced fumble of the year. It remained 38-17 to start the 4th – but not for long. On the first play of the quarter, with the Colts driving in the red zone, Luck was picked off by Dennard who returned it 87 yards for the Patriots’ third return touchdown of the day and the 45-17 lead. Luck, the No. 1 pick in 2012 was picked off by Dennard, the No. 224 pick in 2012. It marked the first game for New England with two interceptions returned for touchdowns since the 2001 season and the longest since former Patriot (and current Colt) Darius Butler returned one 91 yards in 2009. Again, pressure forced an errant throw as Arrington got in on Luck who just missed an open Brazill down the field for what likely would have been a touchdown. A few plays later, however, Luck hit Hilton down the sideline even in the face of pressure as Talib was beat again. Hilton picked up his third 100-yard game of the year and until Justin Blackmon went crazy yesterday, Hilton was the only rookie with a 100-yard game this season. The score was 45-24 New England with just over 12 minutes left. And the Patriots offense wasn’t done yet as Brady found Gronkowski and Welker for big gains on the ensuing drive before Edelman took the ball 47 yards on an end-around to set up a Ridley touchdown run from three yards out. Ridley finished with 28 yards and the touchdown, his seventh of the year. The Patriots put up 50 points for the second time this season. With another Colts punt, Edelman again took off as he returned this one 49 yards in what was one of his most productive days ever. Another pass to Welker and a few runs by Shane Vereen and the Pats were inside the Indy five before Vereen, who finished with 40 yards, took it in untouched on a toss play to make it 59-24, which tied the Patriots franchise record for the most points in a game. To cap off his day, Luck then threw his third interception, this time to Tavon Wilson, who picked up his team-leading fourth pick of the season and that was it. The Pats improved to 18-0 in the second half of the season since 2010. Their last loss in the back half of the season came in Week 17 of 2009 at Houston in the game that Welker tore his ACL. Since 2007, New England has scored 50 or more points five times. No other team has done it more than twice. With two 50-point games this year, they became the second team in the last six seasons with a pair of 50-point games in one season; the other: the 2007 Patriots. Welker recorded at least one reception in his 104th straight game, which is good for the 4th-longest active streak, and finished with seven catches for 80 yards. The balance that the team has come to rely on this season wasn’t quite there as they threw the ball 35 times and ran it just 25 times. They did manage 100 yards as a team as Edelman led them with 47 yards on the day. The Colts turned the ball over four times, while the Pats went turnover free. New England scored 21 points off of those turnovers. Coming into the day, Indy had forced the fewest turnovers of any team in the league. Luck was responsible for all four turnovers, throwing three picks and losing a fumble. The Pats improved to 26-1 in their last 27 regular season games in which they scored 24 or more points by halftime. With his 51st career 300-yard game, Brady tied Dan Fouts for the 6th-most in NFL history. Six different players scored the Patriots’ eight touchdowns. No rookie quarterback has won at New England since Kerry Collins did it in 1995. With seven receptions for 72 yards, Reggie Wayne reached the 1000-yard plateau for the eighth time in his career. Luck finished 27-50 for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three killer interceptions. It was the fifth time this season that he has thrown for 300 yards in a game, breaking the rookie record of four set by none other than Peyton Manning. The victory was the 199th in the head coaching career of Bill Belichick. Chandler Jones left the game early on with an ankle injury and did not return and Gronkowski was seen heading to the locker room in the final minutes. The real trouble surfaced after then game when reports began to indicate that he has a broken a bone in his forearm and will likely be out for 4-6 weeks. That. Would. Be. Horrible. The Patriots improved to 7-3 atop the AFC East and will travel to New York to play the 4-6 Jets on Thanksgiving night. The 6-4 Colts will host the 4-6 Bills next week.    Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.    
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