Sunday, January 12, 2014

Indianapolis Colts 22 at New England Patriots 43 - January 11, 2014


Sometimes the scheduling gods work in your favour and sometimes they don't. The same could be said for those deities that control the weather. For me this year, the scheduling supremos were on my side the whole way. The day after I decided to proceed with the NFL Road Trip (made possible by their fine work starting the season in Denver), the NHL released their schedule. I saw that the Leafs and Bruins would be in Boston on January 14th. TD Garden is one of two NHL rinks (and four NBA arenas) that I had yet to visit on my slow march to Club 122, and when the NBA issued their slate on August 6th, it had the Raptors in Boston on January 15th. I immediately made plans to be in Boston for those two days, fully expecting my NFL shenanigans to be over by then.

Of course, the New England Patriots ended up finishing second in the AFC, thus earning the right to host a game on January 10th, with the Indianapolis Colts beating KC in the wild card round to be declared the guests. I decided to drop the Raptors game as the Celtics were home to the Rockets on the 13th and made it a Boston sports weekend. Thanks to the scheduling gods for their assistance as always.



So how about those weather gods? To be fair, they were quite kind to me on my journey; I only suffered through one chilly game (Arrowhead) and two rainstorms, both involving New England. There was the second half downpour in Foxboro in Week 2 and then the constant rain in Cincinnati in Week 5. When New England visited Carolina and Houston, there was even a bit of drizzle then. For some reason, the Patriots and I don't mix well, and sure enough the trend continued with a big storm hitting Boston on Saturday. Fortunately, I had prepared this time, but still got soaked walking from the train to the stadium, just a 5-minute jaunt. What train is that you might ask? The Patriots Train of course!

Patriots Train

One of my goals on the trip was to avoid paying exorbitant parking charges, which I did in 31 out of 32 stadium visits (forked over $15 in Buffalo). In Foxboro, I stayed in a hotel near Gillette Stadium and they allowed us to keep the car there without asking for more money. This time that would not be an option, as that hotel was booked solid and I wanted to stay downtown to see the city, which I had skipped on my first visit. Thankfully there is an option that gets fans from downtown to Foxboro, known as the Patriots Train. At $15 return, it is economical if you are traveling as a pair or solo (parking can be found at Foxboro for $20 but add in the cost of gas and hassle of parking and the train is a better bet). Tickets are purchased in advance via a mobile app or at the South Station MCBR ticket windows. There is only one train that carries up to 1,800 passengers, and it makes two other stops at stations along the way. It is incredibly slow, taking an hour to go 25 miles with a few unexplained stops as well. If you take this, board near the front of the train as that is closest to the stadium when you arrive. There is also a train from Providence, make sure to get on the right train on the way back.

Anyway, it wasn't raining when the train left Boston at 6 pm, but when it reached Foxboro, the skies had opened to welcome me back. By the time I reached the ticket window, I was completely drenched. I put on my poncho then (yeah, like locking the barn door after the horse has gone) and after enduring a long security line, made it into the stadium. The concourses were slick and most fans had some form of rain gear on as you can see below. They were handing out rally towels which were pretty useless but still attracted crowds of fans trying to grab their share.



I made my way to the upper deck where my seat was located. The rain had let up by then, so I was able to snap a shot of the field during the national anthem.



My seat was around the 20 yard line in the upper deck, completely unprotected from the elements. The rain came and went throughout the first half but was never gone long enough for me to remove my camera from its secure and dry position inside my coat. Not all was bad though. The seats next to me were empty until a happy couple came up the wrong side of the section and decided to sit there. The guy had bought a beer for his friend, who was now 16 seats away, so he gave it to me instead. Free beer! They chatted with me for a few minutes (the lady confided in me that she was the "d-deshiknayted driber"- yikes) and bought beers for some others in the area before leaving to join their doubtless thirsty friends at the other end of the section.

Meanwhile, there was an NFL playoff game happening on the field far below. I was hoping for a Colts win since they were the club that treated me the best during my trip, but Bill Belichick and LeGarrette Blount had other ideas.

The Game

Indianapolis had the first possession and on the third play from scrimmage, Andrew Luck threw a poor pass that was picked off by Alfonzo Dennard (#37 below, reading Luck's mind), who returned it to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Blount ran it home and the Pats had a quick 7-0 lead.



After Indy went 3-and-out and punted, New England drove 74 yards over 10 plays, again with Blount (below) scoring from 2 yards out. It looked like the blowout was underway but Luck hit LaVon Brazill with a beautiful 38-yard strike on their ensuing possession drive to make it 14-7.



Both teams went 3-and-out on their next drives, and then the Patriots took over with 2:22 left in the first, the 8th possession of the quarter. They put together a great drive, running ten times around four Tom Brady passes to march 75 yards, again finishing with a Blount 2-yard touchdown run. Indy added a field goal on their next drive, and then the weirdest play of the game gave the Colts some hope.  Facing 4th down and 2 on their own 49, the Patriots looked set to go for it, but then quickly switched to punt formation. But they weren't quick enough, drawing a delay-of-game penalty. On the punt, long snapper Danny Aiken sent the ball far over Ryan Allen's head. Aiken was charged with a fumble while Allen chased the ball back to the two-yard line. Instead of kicking it back for a safety, he picked it up and tried to pass or something. The ball popped out and was batted out of the end zone by Indianapolis for the safety, a lucky break for the Patriots, who might have given up a touchdown otherwise. Allen was hurt on the play and kicker Stephen Gostkowski punted for the rest of the game.

With the safety, Indianapolis got the ball back but could not get another score as Luck threw his second of four interceptions and halftime arrived with the Patriots up 21-12, in honour of Rush's greatest album. During the break, I moved down to the lower level to join my friends who were keeping dry standing behind one section. This gave me the chance to take some pictures, although my view was often obscured by fans coming up and down the aisles.



The Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession of the half, and Indy responded with another field goal to make it 21-15. The Colts' D really needed a stop as New England started from their own 12 after a poor return by Blount. Sadly, they could not find it and the Patriots started with a 53-yard pass from Brady to Danny Amendola, following that with eight plays culminating in a 3-yard TD run from Stevan Ridley. Ridley also rant the ball in for a 2-point conversion to restore the 14-point cushion.

The Colts were not fazed on offense though, as Luck hit T.Y. Hilton for a 46-yard bomb and immediately followed that with a 35-yard touchdown to Brazill (#15 below returning with the ball). The drive took all of 1:17 and suddenly it was 29-22. Could this be another stunning comeback?



In short, no. The next four combined possessions resulted in punts. When New England took over at their 27 with 13:08 left in regulation, another long, clock-killing drive was anticipated. Blount had other ideas. On the first play, he broke through the line, beat a safety, and found himself in the open field, rumbling 73 yards to the end zone and essentially clinching the game. He also set a franchise record for most touchdowns in a game, regular season or playoffs. Luck was picked off on the first play after that and shortly thereafter Ridley ran it in from a yard out for the final score of the game, won 43-22 by the Patriots, with the last 10 minutes just a mess that I've already forgotten.



The Patriots scored all 6 of their touchdowns on the ground, a rare feat these days, especially with 
Brady at QB. The weather had something to do with it, but Indy's defense could not stop the run regardless. The Pats move on to Denver or host San Diego and I might try to go to that game in either location. Will update here when I know.

Notes

Patriot fans are some of the worst in terms of watching the game. They are constantly moving around, up and down the aisles, getting more and more beer, even during the action. The last time I came here I sat in the first row of the upper bowl, so I didn't notice, but this time it was incredibly annoying, both in the upper and lower decks. Even worse, they cannot hold their liquor, and there were so many drunks sliding and falling in the slippery conditions, I'm surprised nobody got hurt. I thought my rating of Gillette Stadium might have been a bit harsh the first time around (it came in 15th in my rankings) but after this visit, it might have been too high. When I did my 2001 MLB trip, Red Sox fans were the same, more concerned about getting drunk than watching the game which they paid to see, and completely without consideration to their fellow patrons. Boston's rep as a hard-drinking town is severely overstated; bars shut at 2 and the liquor section at Walgreens was closed off as I returned to my hotel at 1:30. Until now, I've been writing positive things about attending NFL games live, a contrarian opinion in these days of the Red Zone Channel and fantasy football. I still believe that there is nothing like being there, but the NFL really has to change the culture of alcohol worship in these stadiums where the fans are not capable of being responsible (Jets, Bills, Pats come to mind based on my trip, all AFC East rivals). Other fans deserve the right to enjoy the game without constant interruption.

Next Up

The aforementioned games featuring the Celtics and Bruins are coming up this week. I'm also going to visit Madison Square Garden for Stadium Journey on Friday and then who knows what next weekend brings. Check back as usual for all the updates.

Best,

Sean

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