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What we learned from Pats' victory over Colts

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (3-2) held off a fourth-quarter comeback and made history in the process on Thursday evening, defeating the Indianapolis Colts (1-4), 38-24, to kick off Week 5. Here's what we learned:

  1. Within 20 minutes of the start of Thursday night's broadcast, FOX play-by-play guy Joe Buck proclaimed with gleeful resignation, "The Patriots look like the Patriots." In other words, the dynasty that never left was back, officially back.

New England's defeat of Indianapolis on Thursday night was familiar in more ways than one. Tom Brady's favorite target of years past, Julian Edelman, was back on the field after a four-game suspension and resembled his old, chain-moving, nickel back-shaking self. Edelman played 72 percent of the Patriots' offensive snaps, knocking Cordarrelle Patterson out of the rotation, racked up seven receptions in his return to the field and most importantly, opened up opportunities for his fellow pass-catchers. Brady got his deep threat going in Josh Gordon and continued to move the ball up the seam with a healthy-enough Rob Gronkowski. The offensive line was up to snuff, too, against a shaky Colts front -- just watch Brady bounce around in the pocket on his TD toss to Gordon.

All that is to say, all is more than well in Foxborough, where memories of New England's prime-time embarrassment in Motown just 11 days ago have blown the way of the dying autumn leaves.

  1. Who needs reinforcements at wide receiver when James White will suffice? While Sony Michel ground down Indy's injury-riddled front seven (98 yards, TD), White took advantage of vacated space in the Colts' underneath coverage and was the Patriots' true engine on Thursday. The back led New England in receptions (10) and receiving yards (77) for the second consecutive week and the third time this season despite -- and perhaps, thanks to -- the return of Edelman. White is now second among active running backs in receptions (29) and receiving yards (270) behind reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
  1. With T.Y. Hilton missing his first game since December, 2014, it was incumbent upon the remaining Colts receivers to pick up the slack. Instead, they dropped the ball -- literally. Indianapolis' pass-catchers dropped six attempts from Andrew Luck, including a game-sealing pick off the hands of Zach Pascal. The quarterback switched from targeting the likes of Pascal and Chester Rogers to locking in on tight ends Erik Swoope and Eric Ebron, who had the most productive game of his career (105 yards, 2 TDs) -- but the tight ends' big nights were too little, too late. The Colts will need more reliability from their pass-catchers as long their bottom-tier running game (3.68 YPC) remains stuck in the mud.
  1. Despite his wideouts' woes, Luck looked like his pre-injury self against his nemeses from New England. Much has been made about the Colts quarterback's inability or unwillingness to throw downfield, but Luck has been slowly pushing the envelope more and more week after week. Luck's 21.1 air distance per attempt is his most this season, per Next Gen Stats, surpassing his previous high mark set last week. Every one of Luck's pinpoint completions on corner routes Thursday night felt like small victories, though it likely doesn't feel that way for the Colts signal-caller. Luck has still yet to defeat the Patriots in six career tries. One note of concern for Luck: Coming off a significant shoulder injury and recovery, Luck has attempted 245 passes through five games, including 121 in the past two. 
  1. The Colts were already short-hoofed coming into this short-week showdown; Indianapolis had more injured players than the seven-man inactive list could accommodate. But the Colts' injury luck got worse once the whistle blew, particularly on defense. Defensive starters Margus Hunt, Denico Autry, Clayton Geathers and Anthony Walker all exited with injuries. With Defensive Rookie of the Month Darius Leonard and Nate Hairston also out with injuries, by the end of the first half, Indianapolis was short its top four tacklers and top two sack-masters.

"Obviously we had a lot of banged up guys going in, but there's no excuse on that," Colts coach Frank Reich told reporters after the game. "It's just the hand that's dealt to you."

For these bruised and beleaguered Colts, the 10-day break before their next game can't come soon enough.

  1. Brady notched his 500th career touchdown pass in style. With the Colts breathing down New England's neck in the fourth quarter, the Patriots quarterback enjoyed a clean pocket for what felt like an eternity and then launched a 34-yard bomb to a double-covered Gordon, who introduced himself to the Patriots faithful with a Moss-ian grab in the end zone. On the score, Gordon became the 71st player to catch a TD from Brady -- that mark, too, is an NFL record. Neighbors in the locker room, Brady and Gordon hooked up twice on Thursday night, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
  1. Lucky, lucky Pats. New England gets a week and a half to prepare for the currently undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and the MVP front-runner, Patrick Mahomes. It's a potential postseason preview that could -- could -- also double as a symbolic passing of the torch in the AFC.
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