I'm not sure it shaped up to be what everyone hoped it would (a high-scoring affair), but it was still a stressful game with all kinds of twists and turns that ultimately saw the Patriots come back from a 20-10 deficit with 10 minutes left in the game to win 24-20. I thought both defenses played great throughout the game. The Patriots defense, though they gave up a lot of yards, was stout when it came to scoring, holding tight in the red zone, only allowing one TD in the Colts' trips inside the 20. They were made to look silly by Joseph Addai on his TD run, but overall they played really well.
The Colts' defense also played well, pressuring Brady way more than we'd like and getting in the backfield to stop runs way too often. What was supposed to be an offensive display turned into a defensive struggle.
I think it was fairly obvious what the Patriots' game plan was: take away the deep patterns and force the Colts to beat you with the run. They held Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in check for most of the game, forcing the Colts to go to Addai frequently. Unfortunately for us, that worked out really, really well for them. We had so many guys back in coverage that there was little to no pass rush in the first half, leaving Addai open for decent chunks of yardage and screen passes.
The Patriots changed their approach towards the end of the third quarter and through the fourth quarter, where they rushed Manning frequently and started getting to him. Brady orchestrated another great fourth-quarter comeback with some great passes making us forget about the two horrible throws that were picked off (one that was underthrown and one that too low). The receivers came up huge in the end.
There were, however, a few things that really disappointed me in this game. First was the officiating, which was about as biased as I've ever seen in a game. The Patriots had 10 penalties for 146 yards to the Colts' four for 25. Did the Patriots make that many more mistakes than the Colts? No. The refs were just calling it that way. It seemed like the Patriots couldn't do anything right without immediately getting hit with a penalty. Anytime Manning went long, it was an automatic pass interference call, including one call where the Colts receiver clearly tackled the Patriots defender. Don't forget the blown incompletion in the first quarter where the Colts' receiver clearly stepped out of bounds and the Patriots were forced to use a review for that simple call. Really, the second best player for the Colts on Sunday was the referee.
The second thing that bothered me was the way people started making excuses for the Colts immediately following the game. Oh, Marvin Harrison was hurt, that would have made all the difference. I heard this from analysts (notably Tom Jackson of ESPN) and from Manning himself during the post-game press conference. Why can't anyone just say that the Patriots won and the Colts need to do better next time? When the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game, they didn't complain that they had lost Rodney Harrison and didn't have Junior Seau. They didn't talk about how they had lost wide receivers during the year. They just said that the Colts were the better team and that was it.
An interesting follow-up to the game is the Patriots claiming that the Colts cheated by piping in crowd noise to the stadium. Okay league, this is what you get for vilifying the Patriots in the first week of the season. Anytime they notice anything shady in an opponents' arena, they're going to report it. Not only are they on a mission to prove they're the best team in the league, they're on a mission to prove that they're not the only ones in the league who pull tricks to help their team win. Watch out, controversy is brewing.