At every opportunity, Bill Belichick likes to point out that a game last week, last month, or last season has absolutely no bearing on the Patriots’ next game.
He’s right, of course, because rosters change, injuries occur, and the factors beyond anyone’s control — the weather, for instance — won’t always favor one team over another.
But trends emerge over time, and this one is staring the Patriots and Colts in the face as the teams prepare to meet Sunday night at what should be a charged-up Lucas Oil Stadium: The Colts, especially if Andrew Luck starts at quarterback, aren’t good enough to beat the undefeated Patriots.
New England won six straight games in the rivalry (2001-05) and then lost five of six (2005-2009). It has again become lopsided in favor of the Patriots, who have won six straight times against the Colts, including the last four with Luck as the starter. He missed games the past two weeks with a shoulder injury — 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck has filled in — but has returned to practice.
“I think Andrew Luck is moving in the right direction,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “I think we’ve got to be ready for both, and we’ll find out on Sunday who’s out there.”
It’s expected to be Luck, who hasn’t had much luck against the Patriots; in four games, his teams have lost, 59-24, 43-22, 42-20, and then 45-7 in last season’s AFC Championship Game. Not only have Luck’s Colts never beaten the Patriots; over the last 222 game minutes against New England, he’s not taken one snap with his team in the lead.
Why have the Patriots had so much success against Luck and the Colts? Again, trends emerge. In the four games, the Patriots have had 31 more first downs, and are plus-9 in turnover ratio, with 12 takeaways. In the past three games, the Patriots held the ball for 37:49, 34:21, and 35:00, keeping the ball out of Luck’s hands, and scoring when they’ve had it.
Wait, there’s more.
■ Running the football — Tom Brady might lead the NFL in completion percentage and passing yards per game this season, but the Patriots have hammered the Colts on the ground the past few meetings, averaging 219 rushing yards over the last three games. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 148 yards and scored three touchdowns in the playoff game Jan. 18, and carried 24 times for 166 yards and four scores in the 43-22 playoff win Jan. 11, 2014. In the teams’ regular-season meeting a year ago in Indianapolis, Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards on 37 carries and scored four touchdowns.
Gray is gone, but the Patriots still have Blount, and this season’s Colts are ranked 19th against the run.
■ Converting third downs — During this four-game win streak over the Colts, the worst the Patriots have done in a game on third-down conversions is 61 percent. That was in the 2014 playoff game, when they converted 11 of 18. They also went 8 of 12, 9 of 11, and 12 of 18 in the AFC Championship Game. Add it up, and the Patriots have converted 40 of 59 third-down conversions, or 67.8 percent.
The Colts defense has fared better this season at getting off the field. Only one opponent has converted half its third downs, and that was Houston (8 of 16) last week. The Patriots, meanwhile, lead the league in third-down conversions at 53.3 percent.
■ Red-zone success — When the Patriots have given themselves scoring opportunities against the Colts, they’ve routinely converted them into touchdowns. Of the 24 drives that have reached the Colts’ 20 over the past four meetings, the Patriots have scored touchdowns on 20 of them. That’s a whole bunch of red-zone drives, and a high percentage of touchdowns. Over the same four-game stretch, the Colts are just 5 for 8.
“We’ll just have to be ready and whatever they give us, we’ll be ready to handle,” Belichick said, talking about the Colts defense. “I’m not really sure which way they’ll go. They’ve done some different things between last year and what we’ve seen this year.”
After starting 0-2, the Colts have won three straight, two of those on the road.
Luck has generated some big passing numbers in his four games against the Patriots, throwing for at least 300 yards three times. But he’s thrown 10 interceptions, and been sacked five times.
It seems that whatever it takes to beat Luck and the Colts, the Patriots have been able to do. They’ve gained as many as 503 yards on offense, and the defense has held Indianapolis to as few as 209. They’ve passed the ball (Brady had 331 yards in the 59-24 win), but have relied heavily on a physical, run-first attack the past three games, with 130 rushing attempts and 90 passes. They continue to force turnovers, while protecting the football.
What does all this mean when it comes to Sunday night’s game? Nothing, as Belichick will remind you. But it sure leaves Patriots fans flush with confidence.