Somehow, the guy who bookended the New England Patriots’ playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts became the forgotten man.
Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck‘s second pass on Saturday night and his last. He opened the game with a bang and closed it out with an exclamation point.
Belichick diagrammed Dennard’s first pick in his postgame press conference.
“Third down, looked like they were running a double slant there with [Colts wide receiver T.Y] Hilton in the slot and Zo got a good jam on him and made a good play on the ball and undercut it,” Belichick said on Saturday night. “He was physical at the line. He’s done a good job for us. He wasn’t able to play here for a couple weeks. He’s kind of been in and out of the lineup a little bit for the last six weeks or so but he’s had a real good two weeks of practice and obviously did a good job today.”
After the game, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, running back LeGarrette Blount and kicker Stephen Gostkowski became the stars of the game. Dennard’s performance went unnoticed.
The bye week treated Dennard well. He was dealing with shoulder and knee injuries down the stretch of the regular season but looked at full health against Indianapolis. He was targeted 10 times and allowed two catches for 54 yards with a touchdown, two pass breakups and two interceptions.
On his first pick, Dennard simply ripped the ball away from Colts receiver LaVon Brazill. The second one was easier. There looked to be some miscommunication between Luck and Brazill, and Dennard just jumped up to pick the ball.
Check out how the rest of the Patriots’ defensive backs fared in my five takeaways from New England’s win over Indianapolis.
1. Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins shined in coverage.
There’s a good reason why Collins and linebacker Dont’a Hightower were praised heavily for their performance against the Colts: Both players were exceptional.
Each player had an interception and allowed two catches on five targets. Cornerback Aqib Talib did a nice job of covering Hilton — the majority of the receiver’s yards came in zone against safety Steve Gregory.
Check out this week’s coverage stats below.
Steve Gregory: 3-3, 91 yards
Alfonzo Dennard: 2-10, 54 yards, TD, 2 pass breakups, 2 INTs
Aqib Talib: 2-4, 41 yards
Logan Ryan: 3-5, 36 yards
Devin McCourty: 1-3, 35 yards, TD
Kyle Arrington: 2-2, 31 yards
Jamie Collins: 2-5, 12 yards, INT
Dont’a Hightower: 2-5, 7 yards, INT
2. Jamie Collins is highly productive rushing the passer.
Pro Football Focus tracked just nine pass rushes for the rookie linebacker. Collins got pressure on five of those, according to my charting. That’s a great ratio.
Collins played all 66 snaps on defense. Hightower and defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones went wire to wire, as well.
Find out how the Patriots fared rushing the passer below.
Jamie Collins: 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 2 hurries
Chandler Jones: 3 QB hits, 2 hurries
Rob Ninkovich: 2 QB hits, 3 hurries
Sealver Siliga: 1 QB hit, 1 hurry
Joe Vellano: 1 sack
Chris Jones: 1 sack
Andre Carter: 1 hurry
Dont’a Hightower: 1 hurry
3. Shane Vereen continues to struggle with drops.
Former third-down backs Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead were extremely dependable for quarterback Tom Brady. This season’s third-down back, Shane Vereen, has dropped a lot of passes; Pro Football Focus has him marked down with nine.
I saw Vereen drop one pass against the Colts. It was on a throw down the sideline from Brady late in the second quarter. That’s a spot Vereen has struggled to catch the ball all season.
Rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins has had a tough time assimilating back into the offense. I saw two drops from Thompkins.
I only saw one really rough pass from Brady. It was on a fourth quarter deep target to wide receiver Julian Edelman that almost got picked off in the end zone.
4. Patriots dominate the turnover battle.
The rain is supposed to increase turnovers, but that only happened for Indianapolis. New England didn’t turn over the football once, despite running 46 times in slippery conditions.
Luck threw four interceptions and the first three had major implications in the game. The Patriots have to continue forcing turnovers and limiting their own down the postseason stretch.
5. Patriots dominate the time-of-possession battle.
Time of possession can give some insight into how successful a team is at rushing the football and stopping the run. New England won the time-of-possession battle 35:00 to 25:00. It makes sense that they held the ball 10 minutes longer — they ran for 5.1 yards per attempt and held the Colts to just 3.3.