Patriots outgun Colts, 59-24

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Patriots outgun Colts, 59-24

FOXBORO -- He looked invincible at the start, Andrew Luck did. He led the Colts on scoring drives of 80 and 84 yards the first two times Indianapolis had the ball -- burning New England's newest secondary hopeful, Aqib Talib, twice during the second -- and it seemed Luck would be a worthy successor to Peyton Manning in a suddenly rejuvenated PatriotsColts rivalry.

Then he reminded us that he's a rookie after all.

He threw not one, but two pick-sixes (and three interceptions overall) to a Patriot secondary that has spent the season making stars of the Russell Wilsons and Kevin Kolbs of the world. He botched the time management of a late first-half drive, forcing the Colts to settle for an impossible Adam Vinatieri 58-yard field-goal attempt when they still only trailed by seven. He was strip-sacked by Rob Ninkovich in the third quarter, a turnover that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski turned into a touchdown just six second later.

Game summary and statistics

Luck's numbers in the end were decent (27-of-50, 334 yards, 2 touchdowns) as he recorded his fifth 300-yard game of the season, the most for a rookie in NFL history. But that many mistakes -- even against a defense as soft as New England's -- usually spells disaster and it did Sunday, as the Patriots pulled away to an easy 59-24 victory at Gillette Stadium.

The victory may prove to be Pyrrhic, if Rob Gronkowski (who, according to sources, suffered a broken forearm) is sidelined for any length of time. But prior to Gronk's injury it was, in the words of Tom Brady, a "fun day".

Julian Edelman (69-yard punt return, 2-yard pass from Brady) and Gronkowski (passes of 4 and 24 yards from Brady) each scored a pair of touchdowns for New England. The Pats also got interception returns for TDs of 59 yards from Talib -- more than making up for his miscues on the second drive -- and 87 yards from Alonzo Dennard; scoring runs of three yards by Stevan Ridley and four yards by Shane Vereen, and a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski . . . who also tied the franchise record for extra points in a game, with eight.

The 59 points tied the franchise record for most points in a game, set in a 59-0 win over Tennessee in 2009.

"That was awesome," said Brady. "That was a team win. We got contributions from all three units."

There wasn't much of a contribution on the defensive side of the ball at the beginning. Luck shredded the Pats defense the first two times he had the ball, with a one-yard scoring run by Delone Carter capping a game-opening 80-yard drive, and a 14-yard TD pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton finishing off an 84-yard march that made the score 14-7.

And Bill Belichick was impressed.

"There were five or six times in the game where I thought we were draped all over him; it didn't seem like there was much space at all to get the ball in, and he got it in and they caught it," said the Patriots coach. "They made some good throws and tough catches in there where I thought we had them covered pretty well, but they were still able to execute it."

The game turned quickly, however. The first time the Pats forced Luck and the Colts to punt, Julian Edelman returned it 68 yards for a touchdown, tying the score in the second quarter.

"Julian's been dying to get out there and make plays and he certainly did today," said Brady, referring to the three games Edelman missed because of a broken hand. "And we needed it."

Then it was Talib, who picked off Luck on the second play of the next drive and returned it 59 yards for the touchdown that put New England ahead to stay.

"He's a great cornerback, that's why they traded for him," said Hilton. "He was able to do some things tonight."

Adam Vinatieri (47 yards) and Gostkowski traded field goals later in the quarter, making it 24-17, but Luck's inexperience showed on the last drive of the half. Taking possession at his own 10 with slightly less than two minutes to play, he was able to move the ball downfield (passes of 19 yards to Donnie Avery and 16 yards to Dwayne Allen) and eventually got the Colts into New England territory. But the Colts didn't use their timeouts wisely and took too much time between plays, and in the end had to settle for a 58-yard FG attempt by Vinatieri. It was out of his range, and the half ended with the Patriots maintaining their seven-point lead.

And then they blew it open in the second half. Edelman's second touchdown put them in front 31-17; Gronkowski's second, after the Ninkovich strip sack and fumble recovery, made it 38-17; Dennard's 87-yard interception return on the first play of the fourth quarter gave them a 45-17 lead. After Luck threw a 43-yard scoring pass to Hilton, the Pats added the Ridley and Vereen touchdown runs for the 59-24 final.

One of the keys was their ability to put pressure on Luck, which, in turn, helped the secondary by reducing the amount of time it had to cover.

"That was the point of emphasis, get pressure on Luck," said safety Steve Gregory. "Because if you just let him stand there and throw the ball, he can pick you apart. So we wanted to focus in on getting pressure on the guy, and the guys up front did a great job of it."

The pressure forced the mistakes -- the rookie mistakes -- and the Pats capitalized for their fourth win a row. They're now 7-3, in solid possession of first place in the AFC East, and in position to maneuver their way to another first-round playoff bye if Houston or Baltimore falters in the final six weeks.

That's thinking a little too far ahead for Brady's taste.

"I think we're trying to make improvements," he said. "I don't think we're anywhere where we need to be at this point."

But where they are was more than good enough Sunday.

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.