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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.

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