INDIANAPOLIS — It seems like such a simple concept, yet one far easier in theory than in practice: proper execution leads to victories.
Over and over in the postgame locker room, that is what the Patriots pointed to as the not-so-secret formula for their 42-20 victory over the Colts Sunday night.
Offensively, the Patriots were able to run the ball extremely well, they were able to get past some first-half miscues — poor field position and two interceptions — and defensively they made one of the best offenses in the league one-dimensional by taking away the run.
Just like it had been game-planned.
“It boils down to that for every team,” Patriots captain Matthew Slater said. “Every team has a game plan and it comes down to the execution. When we execute, we have players that give us a great chance to have success.”
Vince Wilfork noted that players returned from their long bye weekend off focused and ready to go, and that coach Bill Belichick made it especially hard on the offense during the week, making it as loud as possible inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse, where the team practiced for two days to prepare for what it’d likely face inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
That came in handy as the Patriots had a couple of early stumbles, from starting their first drive of the game at their 11 — the offense started inside the 20 four times in the first half — to two interceptions from Brady, the second of which was a rare, poor decision.
But while Brady wasn’t at the MVP-worthy level he’s been playing at in recent weeks, particularly in that opening 30 minutes, he had plenty of help from his teammates.
On offense, no one helped more than running back Jonas Gray, though he credited the offensive line.
One month to the day after being promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, Gray had a dream performance: 38 carries for 199 yards and four touchdowns, the first player in franchise history with four rushing touchdowns in a regular-season game.
“I think there are games that you go in and we’re not sure how good we’re going to run it, but when it’s going well, you want to keep giving it to him,” Brady said. “They were creating holes, and Jonas Gray was finding yards, whether it was cutting back or staying with his blocks. He just had great vision tonight. He ran for almost 200 yards, so it was a pretty sweet night for a running back.”
Video: Tom Brady on win over Colts
Gray scored from 4, 2, 2, and 1 yards, and came tantalizingly close to becoming the first Patriots player in more than 30 years to top 200 yards in a game. The 24-year-old said he’d had a chat with owner Robert Kraft on Saturday, and Kraft told him he knew the back was poised for a big game.
Gray’s effort helped the Patriots to their best road win of the season, in a building they’d yet to win in, going 0-3 in their previous visits.
Video: Big night for Jonas Gray
“It’s definitely huge,” Slater said of the road victory. “This is a very good football team we beat tonight.”
The Colts entered the game as the top passing offense in the league, and also had a strong 1-2 running punch from Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson. But New England held Bradshaw and Richardson to just 4 yards rushing, with Andrew Luck getting 15 on three runs. Nineteen yards rushing on 17 carries is as one-dimensional as you can make a team.
“We felt going in that we could [run the ball], we knew we had to run it and stop it, and we did neither,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
“They forced us to be one-dimensional,” Luck said. “It’s tough. It’s tough sledding. We just couldn’t keep it close enough to have a fighting chance at the end. They certainly pulled away from us. They beat us fair and square.”
Devin McCourty said trying to take away something from an offense, whether it’s the ground game or the passing game, is always part of the plan.
“No matter what, those teams, the Colts, Denver, that throw the ball a lot, if you give them the opportunity to run the ball plus throw it, it will be a long day for you,” McCourty said.
The game-sealing play came with over eight minutes left, as the Colts, trailing 35-20, went for it on fourth and 10 from their 32-yard line. Luck already had thrown three incompletions on the possession, and on fourth down he looked to his most trusted receiver, veteran Reggie Wayne.
Wayne got his hands on the pass but couldn’t hang on, and the Patriots got the ball back in a quite favorable spot.
After two Gray runs, Brady found Rob Gronkowski on third down, and Gronkowski did what few other players in the NFL can do — shed tackles and bowl over defenders on his way to a highlight-reel 26-yard touchdown.
It put the Patriots up, 42-20, not an insurmountable deficit given Luck’s propensity for comebacks, but on this night there would be no such fortune.
It was what New England would deem a total team win, so efficient punter Ryan Allen was only called upon once. Against a Colts defense that was allowing opponents to convert on just 30 percent of third-down chances, the Patriots were an impressive 9 for 12 (75 percent).
Video: Bill Belichick postgame comments