Yet, the blame for the near-collapse on Sunday has mistakenly been placed squarely on the defense.
While the defense, statistically speaking, got torched by Peyton Manning and the Colts in the fourth quarter, the unit was simply doing its job. With a healthy 31-14 lead and just 10:23 left on the clock, the Patriots were happy to let Manning have a field day with his underneath routes. Giving up eight yards and letting the clock continue to tick was the Patriots' goal, and in that goal they succeeded.
Well, sort of. There were two (and only two) inexcusable plays from the defense. The first was a missed tackle of Donald Brown on third-and-4 from the Indy 44. Patrick Chung got dominated in the hole and missed his opportunity, and Brown burst past him, leaving several Patriots in his trail. It resulted in a 36-yard gain.
The other inexcusable play was still somewhat excusable, given the epic flop by Kyle DeVan that might have even had the Montreal Canadiens embarrassed. Still, Tully Banta-Cain should never have pushed him after the whistle, so he's not free from criticism.
Yet, it was the offense that failed to do its job in the fourth quarter. The defensive gameplan was such because Bill Belichick believed Tom Brady and Co. could pick up at least three first downs and milk the clock. That, however, didn't happen.
Only needing to pick up a few yards, the Patriots' final two drives went as such:
- Three plays, 6 yards, 40 seconds
- Four plays, 17 yards, 2:21, one surefire interception that would have set the Colts up at the New England 40-yard line if not for the stone hands of Tyjuan Hagler.
Not exactly the stuff of legend, to say the least.
Yet, Brady has bailed out the defense many times before, so it's only fair he gets his mulligan once in a while. And, because Brady completed 19 of his first 21 pass attempts and most of his meager six incompletions hit the hands of his receivers, this may be nothing more than an exercise in picking nits.
The fact is the Patriots won a game over a top-tier AFC opponent and sit at 8-2. It wasn't the defense's fault that the game was so close, though. It was the defense that saved the day.
Why did the final score end up so close? Was it the offense's or defense's fault? Share your thoughts below.