First, before we dig deep into all things karma, let's start with this: I don't want to hear about running up the score. That wasn't Woburn vs. Reading at Gillette on Sunday. Bill Belichick isn't paid to consider the feelings of Andrew Luck or Jim Irsay or Reggie Wayne or even Chuck Pagano.
Look, this was my take in 2007 and I feel the same way now: These are all grown men. They get paid a ludicrous amount of money to either throw, catch, tackle, block or kick. Dwight Freeney makes 14 million bucks this season, or $875,000 per game. He'll have to live with the humiliation.
This is professional football. You get the ball and try to score. If the other team stops you, they stop you. If they can’t, you score and then try to score again the next time you get the ball. No orange slices at halftime. No everybody gets to play. I understand that Belichick has his faults, but this isn’t one of them for me. If the Patriots are lucky enough to be up 42-0 at MetLife on Thursday I expect them to be throwing and throwing and throwing. And Sunday vs. the Colts was running up the score by the loosest definition -- the Patriots ran the ball five times and had two short passes on the TD drive that put them up 59-24 with 3:55 left in the game.
Now, would I have Tom Brady on the field in that situation? I would not, but it has nothing to do with showing respect for the opposition. I simply fail to recognize the reward against the crippling, season-ending risk. Same goes for Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork -- all the A-listers. What is there to gain, exactly, by being on the field up four touchdowns with less than six minutes left in a game? What will happen that will benefit you long term? I've never understood it and it still eludes me, but it's not changing.
As for the injury to Gronkowski -- assuming it happened on the extra point, there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, he was on the field for just one play on that TD drive -- I'd love to sit here and drive page views by telling you this was karma for all the terrible things Belichick has done in his life, but that's too stupid for even me to try force down your throat. If Gronkowski had been injured during that drive -- or even the one before -- blasting Belichick would fall somewhere close to perfectly reasonable. But this was a fluke, nothing more, nothing less. There are no football gods, and you know how I know that? Jerry Sandusky won national championship games. This injury isn't revenge for all the evils and arrogance of Belichick. A guy broke his forearm on an extra point. That's all. It just happened.
To the card we go ...
QUARTERBACKS -- A
Reason for grade: One of those We Take for Granted games Tom Brady (24-of-35, 331 yards, three touchdowns and nothing close to an interception) puts together three or four times a season. The Colts defense isn't exactly the 1985 Bears, OK, but that was the group put in front of Brady and he absolutely carved them up from beginning to end. What continues to be truly remarkable about Brady is that he basically never turns the ball over. Andrew Luck had three picks on Sunday in 50 attempts, Brady has three picks this season in 393 attempts. Brady is one of seven quarterbacks this year with at least 20 touchdown passes and the other six average just under nine interceptions for the season. Two weeks ago I had Matt Ryan as the MVP, he's out after the loss to New Orleans and the five picks on Sunday vs. Arizona. If I'm filling out the ballot today it's Peyton Manning first and Tom Brady second, which isn't a big deal until you realize it's two of the five best players ever at the most important position in sports who have been rivals for over a decade, are both in their mid-30's and have each missed a full season with an injury.
Peak: Brady targeted Rob Gronkowski seven times and completed seven passes, highlighted by a 36-yard touch pass over the middle (past linebacker Kavell Conner, who was abused by Gronkowski on Sunday) and the touchdown pass on the play immediately following the Ninkovich strip of Luck, using play action to freeze Pat Angerer and hitting Gronkowski on his back shoulder to keep safety Tom Zbikowski.
Valley: If you are going to bring Ryan Mallet into the game and you clearly don't care about offending the opponent, at least have Mallet throw the ball. Why not?
Number that stands out: Brady has passed for 300 or more yards 51 times in his career, tied with Dan Fouts for sixth in NFL history.
RUNNING BACKS -- C
Reason for grade: Stevan Ridley. Yup, he had a garbage-time touchdown, but just 28 yards on 11 carries. In classic Belichick fashion, Danny Woodhead followed his best game of the season last week with just 11 snaps (thanks to the folks at ESPNBoston.com) and zero carries. Don't read a thing into it, you'll never figure it out. He'll probably be the featured back on Thursday night. Shane Vereen (11 carries, 40 yards, TD) was the best back on the field for the Patriots, also chipping in with an 11-yard reception.
Peak: The longest rush of the 2012 season came in the third quarter and was from a wide receiver, as Julian Edelman took a reverse 47 yards to the Indianapolis 3-yard line (Ridley would score on the next play). Wes Welker and Michael Hoomanawanui had key blocks to help Edelman.
Valley: Here are Ridley's carries in the first half: Four yards, four yards, -1 yard (at the Colts 3-yard line on 1st-and-goal), no gain and -2 yards.
Number that stands out: The Patriots averaged 4.5 yards per carry on Sunday (115 yards on 25 carries). Without the Edelman rush the number drops to 2.8 yards per carry.
RECEIVERS -- A-
Reason for grade: Gronkowski, Welker and Edelman were targeted a total of 25 times and caught 19 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Just really solid stuff, no real spectacular catches but no glaring drops.
Peak: Other than the previously mentioned Gronkowski connections with Brady? Let's go with the Edelman third-quarter 17-yard screen catch that could have very easily been a two-yard loss without the receiver shaking off a Darius Butler tackle.
Valley: Ignoring the obvious injury, there was actually one drop that shouldn't have been on Sunday, and it came in the first quarter from Edelman, right in his hands.
Number that stands out: Brandon Lloyd had 34 catches in the first six weeks of the season. In the last four games he has 12 receptions.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- B+
Reason for grade: Strong in pass protection, not so much in the running game. Look, this is reality without Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, there is going to some decline in rush blocking and you saw it on Sunday from the guards, particularly Nick McDonald, who had his troubles containing Cory Redding. Donald Thomas -- who was in at left guard for Mankins -- had a terrific all-arond effort. And while Brady was at times pressured, he again wasn't sacked as Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney were (mostly) silenced by Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder.
Peak: Vollmer took Josh Gordy out of the play on Edelman's 17-yard catch in the third quarter, getting out in front of the play on the key 3rd-and-11 conversion from the New England 23-yard-line (a drive that ended with an Edelman two-yard TD reception).
Valley: Solder was flagged for a pair of holding calls against Freeeny in one second-quarter drive (one was declined) and Ryan Wendell was run over by Ricardo Mathews in the third quarter, as the tackle broke through and forced Brady to throw the ball away.
Number that stands out: Brady has been sacked once in the last 14 quarters.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- B+
Reason for grade: For the second straight week this group was ineffective against the rush (the Colts finished with 119 yards on 24 carries, and Vick Ballard picked up a majority of his 72 yards up the middle, twice getting out of Vince Wilfork tackles) but this week made impact plays against the opposing quarterback. Rob Ninkovich had two tackles for a loss, hit Luck twice and had the strip sack and fumble recovery. Wilfork pressured Luck and helped force the floater that was returned for a touchdown by Talib and also batted down a pair of passes (the second of which he dove for and kinda nearly intercepted, which led to the inevitable "Nobody knows this, Jim, but Vince Wilfork is a heckuva athlete" bit from Phil Simms, even though we all know that Wilfork is a heckuva athlete because we've watched his play a lot over the last nine years. Fat guys can be athletic, we get it, we've all seen The Best Of Chris Farley. And yes, I'm officially suffering from Phil Simms fatigue.) Jermaine Cunningham had two third-down hits on Luck incompletions as he continues to quietly progress this season.
Peak: The game was getting away from the Colts but was nowhere close to over when Ninkovich overpowered Anthony Castonzo in the third quarter, stripping Luck and recovering the fumble. Brady found Gronkowski for a touchdown on the next play, pushing the lead to 38-17 with 3:22 left in the third quarter and basically removing any drama as to the outcome.
Valley: Lost in the Gronkowski post-game hysteria was Chandler Jones leaving the game (and not returning) in the first quarter with a right ankle injury. Cunningham replaced Jones and performed well, but this is obviously something to keep an eye on. Not impossible that the Patriots will be without Mankins, Hernandez, Gronkowski and Jones on Thursday.
Number that stands out: Only three players in the NFL have at least five sacks and five forced fumbles this season: Elvis Dumervil, Charles Johnson and Rob Ninkovich.
LINEBACKERS -- B-
Reason for grade: It helped that the Colts don't have a significant pass-catching weapon at tight end, clearly, but we didn't see any obvious failures in pass coverage. Jerod Mayo was awful last week, I thought the worst game of his career, but he bounced back on Sunday, nearly intercepting a third-quarter Luck pass (Steve Gregory was also close) and stopping Ballard for a loss in the first quarter (Mayo also missed chances to stop Ballard and Donald Brown on rushes). Once again, Brandon Spikes was the standout, this week blitzing often and forcing at least three Luck incompletions. The blitzing was also crucial in making Luck jittery in the pocket, which was clearly the case over the last half of the game. Wouldn't surprise me if Mayo is the guy who makes the Pro Bowl, but Spikes is a better (at the very least more valuable) player right now.
Peak: Spikes (and Trevor Scott) stopped Ballard for a four-yard loss on a rush to the left side in the third quarter, a drive that ended with Dennard's pick-six.
Valley: Donta Hightower really struggled early against the rush, taken out of plays twice by Dwayne Allen on the opening drive, including on a five-yard Ballard carry to the New England 1-yard line (Carter scored on the next play, a rush that saw Chandler Jones miss a chance on a tackle for loss). Hightower did have a pass deflection (used his left hand to knock down a pass attempted for Reggie Wayne) and had a hit on Luck.
Number that stands out: Mayo leads the NFL in tackles with 101.
SECONDARY -- B-
Reason for grade: Better, but still work to do. There was plenty of good, starting with the three picks. Listen, both TD returns were gifts from Luck, but you still have to make the play and Dennard and Talib did exactly that. Dennard also contributed as a blitzer, getting a pair of hits on Luck. Talib's debut was up-and-down, giving up a pair of touchdowns. The first, the 14-yarder to T.Y. Hilton, was just a really good throw and catch against acceptable coverage. The second, a 43-yarder again to Hilton, was simply a case of Talib being fooled by Luck on a fake (Talib was also flagged for pass interference on the play). Pat Chung wasn't happy about sitting out again, but guess what? He's not as good a safety as Devin McCourty (though he might have a case against Gregory), who bailed out Talib with a knock down of a second-quarter pass to LaVon Brazill.
Peak: The Talib touchdown was an absolute game-changer, coming with the game tied at 14-14 with 11:18 left in the second quarter. Sure, there wasn't much to the actual catch (again, Wilfork's pressure was key), but the return was outstanding, as Talib made Dwayne Allen miss with a quick cut to his right and got to the outside, cutting back to the middle of the field and crossing over to the left, showing great patience before finding the end zone. Gregory had a block on Wayne inside the 10-yard-line that enabled Talib to score.
Valley: Kyle Arrington was toasted by Donnie Avery on the opening drive, collecting a flagrant pass interference flag after taking Avery down at the New England 6-yard-line. A touchdown came two plays later.
Number that stands out: Reggie Wayne had seven catches for 72 yards, but he was targeted 18 times.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- A-
If Stephen Gostkowski makes his 36-yard field goal attempt instead of slicing it this is a clean "A" for this group. Edelman had a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown -- with a key block from Matthew Slater -- had another for 49 yards and forced a Hilton fumble on a second-quarter kickoff (the Colts did recover) and Zoltan Mesko averaged 57 yards on his two punts, one that was downed inside the 20-yard line and the other returned for just seven yards by Hilton.
COACHING -- A
If you think Belichick's a moron for leaving Gronkowski in to block on that extra point I suppose you're grading this differently. But if you view that as a total fluke than I don't see many nits to pick. Give me a criticism of the play-calling of Josh McDaniels (even the ol'trickeration worked). The offensive line was banged up and more than held their own. You wanted more blitzing, you got more blitzing (and I'll be baffled if we don't see more against Mark Sanchez on Thursday). The Colts went up and down the field on the first two drives, adjustments were made, and that was really it in terms of relevant scoring from the Colts (the next time they scored a TD it cut the lead to 45-24).