INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Brady found a way to stop talking about revenge Sunday night.
He let the Colts take the air out of their own building with a bone-headed botched fake punt.
In one of the strangest games of this long, heated rivalry, Brady threw for 312 yards, three touchdowns and led the Patriots to a 34-27 victory Sunday night in the highly anticipated “Deflategate” rematch.
The postgame discussion focused on one central them: What were the Colts thinking?
“We expected this to be a gadget game,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Their punter ran a sweep against Tennessee a couple weeks ago, so that’s something they’ve done in the past.”
But in a series defined by wild games and crazy plays, Indy’s awful fake punt might have been the worst of the worst. With most of Indianapolis’ players shifted up near the right sideline, receiver Griff Whalen inexplicably snapped the ball to safety Colt Anderson, who was immediately tackled for a 1-yard loss.
That gave the Patriots the ball at the Colts 35. Six plays later, Brady got free from the pass rush and hooked up with LeGarrette Blount for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 34-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“The whole idea there was on fourth-and-3 or less, shift our alignment to where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in, catch them with 12 men on the field and if you get a certain look, you can make a play,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Alignment-wise we weren’t lined up correctly, and then a communication problem on the snap. I take responsibility for that.”
Indy (3-3) never recovered.
New England has won seven straight over its longtime rival and is 5-0 for the first time since its 16-0 season in 2007.
While Brady wasn’t perfect — he threw his first interception of the season — he was still pretty darn good. Brady finished 23 of 37 in the first meeting since January’s AFC title, which ultimately led to allegations of improperly inflated balls, months of investigation and eventually a four-game suspension that was nullified in court.
Had the suspension been upheld, Brady would have made his season debut in front of a hostile Indianapolis crowd.
Instead, Colts fans, who booed heartily when Brady first appeared at Lucas Oil Stadium, roared even louder when Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck returned after missing two games with an injured right shoulder. Luck was 30 of 50 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and most importantly, no turnovers.
“Obviously, it was not ideal,” Luck said of the trick play call. “But a couple of three-and-outs don’t help anything.”
The game didn’t go the way anyone expected.
New England got away from its strong ground game, running just 25 times for 116 yards, and kept the ball mostly in Brady’s hands.
But the Colts played the more aggressive game.
They scored a touchdown on the opening series by going for it on fourth-and-1. They tried a first-half onside kick. They continued to take shots down the field, and they refused to back down from the defending Super Bowl champs.
So the fake punt fit right in — no matter how bad it turned out.
“We were going to be aggressive,” Pagano said. “We were going to attack this football team.”
It was the game everyone wanted to see in last season’s AFC championship game, a 38-point rout.
Inspired by Luck’s return, the Colts led 21-20 at halftime — something they had not done since Luck’s arrival in 2012.
But in the second half, Brady reverted to form.
He opened the second half by taking the Patriots on an 80-yard drive, capping it with a 25-yard TD pass to a wide-open Rob Gronkowski to make it 27-21.
And after getting the short field off the fake punt, Brady put the game away with a nimble move to evade the pass rush and spot Blount in the end zone for the first TD catch of his pro career.
Luck made it close with an 18-yard TD pass to Whalen with 1:19 to go, but Gronkowski recovered the onside kick and ran out of bounds to seal it.
“It’s a good win, I’m glad we won,” Brady said. “It’s always good to win on the road.”
Notes: Belichick provided no updates on New England’s injured players. The Patriots played without left tackle Nate Solder and his replacement Marcus Cannon (right toe) couldn’t finish the game. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the Pats’ No. 2 tackler, was inactive. … Colts safety Mike Adams, whose interception return for a TD gave Indy a 14-10 lead, left later with an in injured hamstring. … Danny Amendola had seven catches for 105 yards and Julian Edelman had six catches for 50 yards and a TD. … Frank Gore ran 13 times for 78 yards. … The Patriots have won six straight Sunday night games.