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Key Moment: Rob Gronkowski gives Patriots a commanding lead

12.04.11 at 5:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The key moment in Sunday’s win for the Patriots came on New England’s first series of the second half. With the Patriots holding a 17-3 lead, New England quarterback Tom Brady steered the Patriots to the Indy 21-yard line (thanks in large part to a no-huddle offense that chewed up an average of roughly nine yards a play on the drive).

With a second and 5, Brady dropped back and found tight end Rob Gronkowski down the seam, hitting the big tight end just as he hit the goal line. (He eschewed the usual thunderous spike in favor of whipping the ball at the wall and slapping five with the fans in the first row.)

“He’s a great player and he does a great job for us, just like everybody else out there,” said wide receiver Wes Welker. “He understands where he needs to be and makes plays in key situations, so he’s been a big help for us, especially in the red area with his touchdowns. He’s such a big target.”

“He is definitely one of the best young tight ends in the NFL,” said Indianapolis linebacker Kavell Connor when asked about Gronkowski, who finished with five catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns.

Read More: Kavell Connor, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Tom Brady: ‘Middle part of the game was awesome’

12.04.11 at 5:27 pm ET
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When the news broke to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the postgame press conference that his third touchdown to tight end Rob Gronkowski was ruled a run, Brady (who threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns) was surprised by the scoring change, but he said that ultimately the damage was done — the offense put the ball in the end zone.

‘€œThat was a good play, good blocking. They blocked well for him on that play, so that was great,’€ Brady said after the Patriots’ 31-24 victory over the Colts. ‘€œThey reviewed it? It must have been close. I thought it was a forward pass.’€

Brady and the Patriots held on for their fourth win in a row after the Colts made a comeback run the fourth quarter. Brady had success running the hurry-up offense, especially as time wound down at the end of the first half. With 1:34 left in the half to start the possession, Brady orchestrated a scoring drive capped by a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run that ate 1:21 off the clock.

After the game, Brady said that it’€™s a matter of the offense coming together that makes the no-huddle a valuable option.

‘€œOffensive football is all 11 guys being on the same page,’€ he said. ‘€œI thought we definitely did that at times today, and the middle part of the game was awesome.’€

The quarterback took snaps Sunday from Nick McDonald, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this week. While the Patriots are dealing with several injuries at the center position, Brady said that McDonald handled the jump to starting center very well.

‘€œPractice really prepared us for the game, and [McDonald] stepped in there, his first game as a Patriot and did a real good job,’€ Brady said. ‘€œIt started with this week of practice.’€

The Patriots hit the road for the next two weeks — next Sunday in Washington against the Redskins, and a battle with the Broncos in two weeks.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Colts, Patriots, Tom Brady

Snap Judgments: Patriots 31, Colts 24

12.04.11 at 3:53 pm ET
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FOXBORO –In a game that will do absolutely nothing to end the “Is this a Super Bowl team?” debate, the Patriots predictably beat the historically inept Colts by a final of 31-24 (not as close as the ol’ score revealed, but it got kind of dicey at the end) on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. After a sloppy start, the Patriots settled in and toyed with the 0-16 (maybe not yet, but come on) Colts.

The Patriots (9-3) clinch a winning record for the 11th straight season. They travel to Washington next week to take on the Redskins, a game that would (depending on what happens with Jets-Redskins) mean an AFC East title with a New England win.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Tom Brady struggled early, but settled down and did exactly what he’s supposed to against a team that hasn’t had a lead in game since October 9, carving up the league’s 32nd-ranked defense to the tune of 293 passing yards, two TDs and zero interceptions. Brady moved ahead of Johnny Unitas and is now tied with Warren Moon for sixth on the career list with 291 TD passes. This was Brady’s ninth game in 2011 with a passer rating over 100.0 (and fourth in five games).

Rob Gronkowski caught both Brady TD passes, tying the NFL mark held by Antonio Gates (2004) and Vernon Davis (2009) for most TD catches in a season for a tight end. Gronkowski’s 13 TD receptions is already tied for second on the Patriots’ single-season chart. It was believed that Gronkowski actually broke the record with what was first thought to be a two-yard TD catch in the third quarter, but the play was later (correctly, it seemed) ruled a lateral and a rushing score for the tight end.

Wes Welker caught 11 passes for 114 yards (Rule No. 144 of Sucking for Luck — never double the league’s most productive receiver). Welker now leads the NFL with 93 catches and 1,257 yards. This was, somewhat surprisingly, only the second time Welker has reached the double-digit total in catches (he does have two games with eight and two with nine).

Vince Wilfork was a force early in the game (when it was a game), blowing (no, really) past Ryan Diem for a sack of Dan Orlovsky, tacking Donald Brown for a loss, pressuring Orlovsky twice more and later stopping Brown for no gain on a 1st-and-goal rush at the NE 1, all in the first half. Again, tough to measure against the Colts, but it’s hard to remember Wilfork playing a more dominant stretch this season.

— El Garbage Time, sure, but let’s be fair: Jerod Mayo had a tremendous diving interception over the middle in the fourth quarter. It was the first interception of Mayo’s career and the 17th of the season for the Patriots.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— Not much from the running game, as the Patriots averaged just 3.3 yards per rush on 19 carries. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a one-yard TD rush in the second quarter, but totaled just 14 yards on six carries. Danny Woodhead was also quiet, picking up only 12 yards on three carries.

— The Patriots defense was largely effective against Dan Orlovsky and the Colts, with the lone exception (when it mattered, anyway) being a 19-play, 67-yard drive in the first quarter. The Colts converted four third downs on the drive, which ended with a 31-yard (yup, a 31-yard FG after 1st-and-goal at the 1) Adam Vinatieri field goal. This is picking nits, I guess, and we will truly have no idea about this defense until they face an A-list QB, but allowing a 19-play drive to Orlovsky raises an eyebrow.

Pierre Garcon had a pair of fourth-quarter TD catches, and the Colts had an onside kick with 36 seconds left that would have, if converted, given the Colts a chance to tie the game. The Colts scored 21 straight points to end the game, posting TD drives of 86, 93 and 90 in the fourth quarter.

Halftime analysis: Patriots 17, Colts 3

12.04.11 at 2:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There are two quarters in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 17-3 lead on the Colts. Here are a few quick notes.

Defensively, the Patriots utilized a 3-3-5 set for much of the first half, with Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Andre Carter up front, Niko Koutouvides, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich at linebacker and a secondary with Matthew Slater, Nate Jones and James Ihedigbo at safety and Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty at corners. (Love was relieved at times by veteran Gerard “Big Money” Warren, while Mark Anderson spelled Carter). Up front, the Patriots were able to get good penetration into the Indianapolis backfield (Wilfork looked extremely active in the early going).

The Colts got nothing on their first drive, but Indianapolis was ale to cash in on their second drive when Dan Orlovsky put together a 19-play 67-yard drive. Indy had a first and goal from the New England one, but the Patriots were able to hold them to a 31-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri tied the game at three early in the second quarter. Offensively, that was pretty much it for Indy. Orlovsky finished the first half 7-for-10 for 73 yards, while Jacob Tamme had one catch for 20 yards for Indy.

Meanwhile, the Patriots were uneven on offense through the first two quarters. New England’s offense stalled out on its first drive and had to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski midway through the first quarter. The Patriots didn’t get anything on their second series, but on their third series, New England was able to put together its most impressive first half sequence of the last month, as Brady assembled a 16-play, 86-yard drive (that included a 12-yard catch from Chad Ochocinco) that ended with an 11-yard pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots followed that up at the end of the half as Brady led another solid drive. Taking over at their own 36-yard line with 1:34 left, the quarterback marched New England down the field on a six-play, 64-yard drive (that was heavy on the no-huddle) that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis that made it 17-3 with 13 seconds left in the half. Brady ended the first half 16-for-21 for 158 yards and one touchdown. Wes Welker had five catches for 67 yards for New England.

Live Blog: Patriots look to keep kicking the Colts while they’re down

12.04.11 at 11:14 am ET
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The 8-3 Patriots welcome the 0-11 Colts to Gillette Stadium, with New England looking to win its fourth straight game while inching Indianapolis a bit closer to the first pick of next year’s draft. WEEI.com will have you covered with all the latest from the game. Join the Virtual Pressbox, below.

Patriots/Colts Live Blog

Setting the scene: Patriots-Colts

12.04.11 at 10:18 am ET
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FOXBORO — Sunny skies and pleasant temperatures in the low 50s are expected for the first 1 p.m. kickoff (CBS, WBZ-TV) of the season at Gillette Stadium as the 8-3 Patriots host the 0-11 Colts. This is the ninth straight season the two longtime AFC rivals have met in the regular season. Despite Indianapolis going through an abysmal season, it’s also a streak that will grow to 10 since the Patriots are scheduled to play all four AFC South teams in 2012.

The field is freshly painted after six Massachusetts high school Super Bowl games were held on the field on Saturday. Crews worked overnight to lay down new lines on the field and the electric fans were in full motion until just before 10 a.m. to dry the paint.

This is the first time the Patriots have faced the Colts without Peyton Manning under center since Nov. 30, 1997 at old Foxboro Stadium, when the Patriots beat current 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Colts, 21-16 at the RCA Dome, when the Colts were still AFC East rivals of New England. Appropriately, the Colts fell to 1-12 that day while the Patriots improved to 8-5 on their way to the playoffs.

In the 19 games since then, the Patriots managed a 12-7 record against Manning, including 2-1 in the playoffs.

Manning did make the trip to Foxboro after getting an exam on his surgically repaired neck this week. He will be on the sidelines trying to offer help Dan Orlovsky, who is the third Colts starting quarterback this season. Kerry Collins started and lost the first three games before getting hurt. Curtis Painter went winless in his eight chances as starter.

There is a great deal of symmetry here as Tom Brady made his first career NFL start against the Colts on Sept. 30, 2001 at Foxboro Stadium when he led the Patriots to a 44-13 pounding of the Colts. He is 6-3 in his regular season career against Indy, with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and a career passer rating of 99.0.

As for injuries on the Patriots side of the ball, starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is out with a right foot injury. He will be replaced by one of two rookies. Nate Solder could start in that spot or Marcus Cannon, who made his debut against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 21, could get his first NFL start if the Patriots choose to keep Solder in as a tackle eligible on power plays, like third-and-short.

Nick McDonald was signed off the practice squad on Saturday afternoon and will be active this afternoon, providing insurance at center for Dan Connolly (groin) and Ryan Wendell (calf), both of whom are trying to play through nagging injuries.

The Patriots are a remarkable 37-5 in the month of December since 2001. The next-closest team in the NFL, over that span, is Philadelphia, which is 32-12. Three of those five losses have come to the Dolphins and the Patriots are 18-1 in the month of December at Gillette since the stadium opened in 2002.

Read More: Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky, EMass Super Bowls, Indianapolis Colts

Analysis of Taylor Price release: Did the wide receiver lose the confidence game?

12.03.11 at 5:38 pm ET
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The release of Taylor Price brings to an end a relatively forgettable year-plus in the Patriots system where the young receiver could never seem to mesh with the offense.

Price, a third-round pick  in 2010 out of Ohio, was inactive for 15 of the 16 games last season, but did catch three passes for 41 yards in the regular-season finale against the Dolphins last season.

However, the 6-foot, 205-pound Price was unable to stay healthy at the start of the 2011 season (he was frequently dogged by a hamstring problem) and when he was healthy, he was unable to mesh with the offense. He was active for three games (18 snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus) this season, had zero catches and was targeted just once in the passing game.

A month ago, it seemed like Price was poised for a bigger role in the offense. At least, that’s what offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien seemed to hint at on a conference call with reporters.

‘€He’€™s practiced well. We need to get him in there more,’€ O’€™Brien said of Price. ‘€He’€™s done a good job in practice. He’€™s a guy that we’€™ve got to give him more reps in the game.’€

For what it’€™s worth, Price never appeared to have the confidence or trust of the quarterback. Perhaps the final straw for Price — at least in my eyes — was when I asked Tom Brady last month how Price has evolved and grown as a wide receiver since he first arrived in New England. The quarterback answered with a lukewarm endorsement of the Ohio product, saying Price was ‘€œlike any young player and veteran player.’€

‘€œIt’€™s about gaining the trust of your teammates and coaches so that you’€™re able to go out there and do it with confidence in the game,’€ added Brady.

It’€™s not like Price was an integral part of the New England offense, but with those snaps now available there will be more opportunities for others in the passing game. It’€™s likely that Julian Edelman (if he continues to get snaps on the offensive side of the ball) could get more chances. In addition, Tiquan Underwood, Matthew Slater and — yes, I’€™ll say his name — Chad Ochocinco will get more opportunities at the wide receiver position.

The release of Price made room for offensive lineman Nick McDonald. With New England down to just one healthy center, McDonald provides depth at the position, and will serve as the backup for Ryan Wendell (who was added to the practice report this week with a calf problem, which has slowed by for a good chunk of the season).

McDonald, 6-foot-4 and 316 pounds, originally joined the Patriots practice squad on Sept. 5, 2011 after being released by the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 3. He was signed by Green Bay as a rookie free agent out of Grand Valley State on April 30, 2010. He was inactive for all 16 regular-season games and four postseason games with the Packers last season. (For more on McDonald, check out this piece by our man Mike Petraglia here.)

Read More: Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Nick McDonald

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