INDIANAPOLIS — What final score would have satisfied your thirst for revenge, Patriots fans? Let's be honest, there was no amount of points, no margin of victory, no measure of vengeance that was going to feel satisfying enough to erase an offseason of allegations and air pressure proclamations.
Sunday night's crusade to the Hoosier land to punish the heathen Indianapolis Colts was set up to be disappointing. Instead of the Patriots not letting up, their 34-27 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium, nine months to the day that the Colts started Deflategate, was a letdown. This wasn't even the usual Patriots rout of the Andrew Luck Colts, a team that in four previous meetings was defeated by an average of 29 points and gave up an average of 47.3 points.
Patriots fans should cue the Idina Menzel and let it go, let it go. You got your revenge, maybe it wasn't as sweet as you hoped. Now, it's on to the rest of the season and the rest of our lives.
But the disappointment was palpable in the voice of a subdued Tom Brady postgame. "It was a good win," Brady said rather unconvincingly.
This game had the potential to be a more lopsided victory for Brady than his defeat of the NFL in federal court that vacated the four-game suspension that would have made this game his season debut. Everyone in Patriots Nation, from Brady's father to your next-door neighbor, wanted the Patriots to pulverize the Colts. Tom Brady Sr. told the New York Times he wanted his son to drop 60 on the Colts.
The Patriots (5-0) didn't even reach 40 points, or their own high standards. Someone forgot to tell the Colts to submit to their primetime public shaming.
"Yeah, they played pretty good. I thought they did a good job in the run game. I thought they competed pretty hard," said Brady, who was 23 of 37 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. "I thought our execution was off at times, so it was a good win. I'm glad we won. It's always good to win on the road."
The Colts were the informants and instigators for a controversy that overshadowed the Patriots' fourth Super Bowl victory and cast a cloud of uncertainty over Brady. They started the whole vicious cycle with equipment manager Sean Sullivan and general manager Ryan Grigson.
Chris Mortensen's report, the ideal gas law, the Wells Report, the Deflator texts, the great Brady cellphone debate — none of it happens without the Colts accusing the Patriots of playing with underinflated footballs in the 2014 AFC Championship game in the midst of a 45-7 dismantling at the hands of Brady and Co.
Despite all of the Patriots' proclamations of this being just another game, it didn't appear that way. After the Patriots' first touchdown, which tied it at 7, Julian Edelman celebrated by rifling the football into the Colts logo behind the goalpost. Edelman is a former college quarterback, so his celebratory tosses are more accurate than most.
Edelman giveth and Edelman taketh away. In the second quarter, Edelman tried to body catch the ball and bobbled it. Colts safety Mike Adams plucked it out of the air and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown that put the Colts up, 14-10.
The Patriots' long-awaited payback of the "AFC Finalist" Colts was not going as planned.
Indy was actually providing resistance.
The Patriots might have helped with their game plan.
Indianapolis came into the game with the 28th-ranked pass defense. That and the opportunity to prove that Brady can shred a defense with a fully inflated ball seemed to guide New England's decision to abandon their usual blueprint to blowout the Colts — running at will. In four previous games against the Colts, the Patriots had averaged 5 yards per carry and rushed for 772 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Patriots ran the ball only nine times in the first half and 23 times in the game, not counting clock-killing kneeldowns. Brady dropped back to pass 39 times. LeGarrette Blount ran 16 times for 93 yards and a touchdown.
In the second quarter, the Patriots handed it to Blount on back-to-back plays, the second a 38-yard touchdown that put the Patriots back in front, 17-14.
At that point, you expected to the Colts to fold like a metal chair in a high school gymnasium. But the Colts decided they didn't want to be the Patriots' willing retribution foils.
The Colts bookended their first-half possessions with 13-play and 12-play touchdown drives. The latter, capped by a Luck to T.Y. Hilton 3-yard TD pass, put the Colts up, 21-17, with 2:38 left in the half.
The Patriots got a 35-yard field goal right before the half to cut the lead to a point.
Rob Gronkowski, who didn't catch a ball in the first half, made his presence felt on the first drive on the second half, catching his first pass and then two plays later catching a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Patriots back on top.
Trailing, 27-21, late in the third quarter, the Colts tried a ridiculously inept and illegal fake punt on fourth and 3 from their 37, giving the Patriots the ball at the Indy 35.
It smacked of desperation and poor preparation. It was like Chuck Pagano rolling out the red carpet for the next head coach of the Colts.
The Patriots predictably took the ball and scored. Brady hit Blount for an 11-yard touchdown.
It wasn't the victory that the legion of Patriots fans who made the pilgrimage to Indianapolis or watching on television wanted.
But it's not often in life that you get exactly what you want.
The Colts lost the game, but saved some face. The Patriots left with a win, but without making a lasting impression.
The Patriots have bigger goals than blowing out the Colts. It's on to them.