INDIANAPOLIS -- I want to be Adam Vinatieri. You can be David Thomas. Both of them, Vinatieri of Indianapolis and Thomas of New England, will sit down with their teammates in the next few days and watch the film of the Colts' 18-15 victory Sunday night against the Patriots.
|What a deal. Adam Vinatieri exacts revenge on the Pats and gets to play hero. (AP)|
You can be David Thomas. All he did was commit the bonehead play of the game. If Vinatieri won it, Thomas lost it. That's a harsh way of looking at it, but then again, life can be harsh, especially life in the Patriots' locker room, where a cold SOB named Bill Belichick is in charge.
At some point in the next few days, David Thomas will walk into a dark room with the rest of his teammates and with Belichick, and together they will watch Thomas fly across the screen and into infamy.
This was New England's drive immediately after the Vinatieri field goal. The Patriots trailed 18-15, and with the way this game had gone, this was going to be their last meaningful possession. They would win the game or force overtime, or they would lose. It was as simple as that.
On the play that Thomas will watch in horror, a second-and-2 from the Colts' 32, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis gains 1 yard, but it's a long 1. By the time the ball is spotted, the Patriots will be closer to the 30 than the 31, and it will be third down, and Belichick will have all kinds of options at his disposal: Get the seemingly easy first down with 4:53 to play, and then keep driving toward the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. If that try falls short, go for it on fourth down or kick a 48-yard field goal -- certainly not a chip shot, but a safe bet given that kicker Stephen Gostkowski has already made three field goals in the game and is 19-for-20 (95 percent) on the season.
Even as Green-Ellis is tackled just short of the first-down marker, the Patriots are in great shape ... until Thomas flies across the screen. Five yards down the field, Thomas blasted Colts defensive end Robert Mathis. The two have been going at it all game, and maybe this is payback for Thomas. Or maybe it's an honest mistake, a miscalculation of time and distance.
Whatever it is, it's a penalty. A flag flies. The call is a personal foul against Thomas, unnecessary roughness. Instead of third-and-inches from just outside the Colts' 30, it's third-and-16 from outside the 45.
Instead of -- at worst -- an attempt of a game-tying field goal, there is confusion after a 1-yard screen pass to Kevin Faulk.
The Patriots punt team starts to run on the field. The offense holds its ground. Eventually the call comes in late, but it does come in: Go for it. The punt team retreats. The offense lines up. Quarterback Matt Cassel throws the ball down the field, but this play was doomed from the start and the final judgment comes at the end when Colts safety Bob Sanders intercepts the poorly thrown pass for -- I think -- tight end Ben Watson.
Belichick made the call. Cassel threw the pick. But Thomas was the goat. And he knows it. Which is why the team's next film session will be so painful.
"He's going to call it like he sees it," Thomas says of Belichick. "He'll see the referee made a judgment call, and we're going to have to live with it."
As mistakes go, this was a bad one. Because as losses go, this was a bad one. Instead of claiming outright possession of first place in the AFC East at 6-2, the Patriots drop into a three-way tie with the Bills and Jets at 5-3. That's the same record as Baltimore, which stands second in the AFC North. Which means that, if the season were to end today, one of those teams wouldn't make the playoffs. Maybe it's the Patriots, maybe not. Either way, at the season's halfway point, New England has almost no margin for error as it pursues a place in the postseason.