INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 38-24 loss to the New England Patriots Thursday night at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. It was the Patriots’ eighth straight win in the series and the ninth consecutive time they scored at least 31 points.
Over, just like that
The 60-minute war of attrition – the Colts were shorthanded and it only got worse; we’ll get to that later – essentially boiled down to a 2-minute, 11-second stretch of the fourth quarter.
Andrew Luck’s 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Erik Swoope narrowed New England’s lead to 24-17 with 12:48 remaining. Suddenly, interest returned in a prime-time game that teetered on the verge of a blowout.
Just as quickly, the Patriots re-seized control. On the ensuing possession, Tom Brady hooked up with Josh Gordon with a 34-yard touchdown catch; safety Matthias Farley and cornerback Chris Milton were there, but unable to bat the football away. With 9:19 on the clock, the Patriots led 31-17.
The Colts’ answering drive ended when wideout Zach Pascal bobbled a Luck pass and Jonathan Jones corralled it for an interception. On the next play, rookie running back Sony Michel gashed a gassed Colts defense for a 34-yard TD. With 7:08 on the clock, the Patriots were comfortably in front 38-17.
Two minutes, 11 seconds. Poof!
Luck’s mindset after the Colts’ crept to within 24-17?
“I thought we were 7 points down with some time left on the clock,’’ he said in his post-game press conference. “That’s how close we were. They came right back and scored and we did not.’’
Frank Reich was taking a long-range view of the game at that point.
“We got it back to one-score game and felt good and confident and hoping to get (the football) back,’’ he said. “We started talking about after we scored to get it back to a one-score (game) . . . we had already decided we were going to go for 2 if it came down to it, to go for the win.
“We talked about what our 2-point play was going to be, and then they got the big play and scored.’’
Over, just like that.
Luck busy again
Reich insisted earlier in the week the Colts couldn’t simply climb on Luck’s back and ride him. But that was the case at Gillette Stadium. Four days after setting a franchise record with 62 pass attempts, Luck delivered 59. That 59, by the way, would have tied Jeff George’s previous team record.
It marked the first time in team history the Colts have attempted at least 50 passes in back-to-back-games. First. Time. Ever.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Luck’s 121 attempts are the second-most in two games in NFL history and the most in a five-day span. Philip Rivers attempted 123 passes in weeks 6-7 of 2015.
Luck finished 38-of-59 for 365 yards with three TDs and two interceptions, neither of which really was his fault. Imagine if his receivers hadn’t dropped eight passes. Eight. His stat line over the last 5 days: 78-of-121, 839 yards, 7 TDs, 2 interceptions.
“He played really good again tonight,’’ Reich said. “He really, really played good football. Threw the ball great, every kind of throw you could throw. Very good decisions.’’
As for the two interceptions, one occurred on Pascal’s bobble and the other when end Adrian Clayborn split guard Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly on an inside stunt and applied pressure. Luck’s errant pass to running back Nyheim Hines was intercepted by safety Patrick Chung.
The Patriots capitalized on the two interceptions with 10 points.
“We’re not going to win consistently until we learn how to get out of our own way,’’ Luck said.
Added Reich: “We got off to a slow start. You cannot do that. You can’t have key penalties, turnovers and drops against a good team, against any team, especially against a team like this, especially on the road.’’
Along with the three turnovers – running back Jordan Wilkins lost a fumble – and the eight dropped passes, the Colts were penalized four times for 35 yards.
Defense worn down
This isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason for getting worn down by Brady and the Patriots. Leading tackler Darius Leonard (ankle) and cornerbacks Nate Hairston (ankle), Kenny Moore II (concussion) and Quincy Wilson (concussion) were ruled out prior to kickoff. During the game, safety Clayton Geathers (concussion/neck), linebacker Anthony Walker (concussion) and lineman Denico Autry (hamstring) exited with injuries.
Too many backups were forced to play too many minutes.
The Brady-led Patriots rolled up 438 yards and 26 first downs. Brady engineered two drives of at least 11 plays and three that chewed up at least 75 yards. He was at his lethal best after the Colts closed to within 24-17. On the next two drives, Indy’s defense had no defense for Brady’s 34-yard TD to Gordon – the 500th of Brady’s career – and Michel’s 34-yard TD run.
While settling into a 24-3 halftime lead, Brady was just this side of unstoppable: 23-of-27, 203 yards, TDs to Cordarrelle Patterson and James White. He also notched a 1-yard TD run.
Fighting the numbers game
As we mentioned, the Colts were outnumbered going into Gillette Stadium, and headed home with more medical issues. They’re off until an Oct. 14 road trip to the New York Jets, and will need the time to heal.
For those who lost track of the missing Colts, a quick refresher. And here’s where we mention the seven-player inactive list wasn’t large enough.
Held out of the game: wideout T.Y. Hilton (chest/hamstring), tight end Jack Doyle (hip), offensive tackles Anthony Castonzo (hamstring) and Denzelle Good (personal), running back Marlon Mack (hamstring), defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (calf), Leonard, Hairston, Wilson and Moore.
Castonzo was in uniform, but only would have been used in an emergency situation.
“I promise you we don’t ever think we’re outmanned,’’ Reich said. “I realize people may think that, but we don’t think that way.
“Obviously we had a lot of stuff, a lot of banged up guys going in. I just want to say up front, any questions on that . . . it’s no excuse. Felt ready. Every team deals with the same thing in the NFL. I would go to battle with these guys anytime.’’
This and that
Ebron had the best game of his career: 9 catches, 105 yards, 2 TDs. He has 5 TDs in five games, already matching a career best. . . . Rogers had 8 catches for 66 yards and Hines 7 for 45. . . . Swoope was added to the active roster from the practice squad prior to the game and contributed 3 catches for 44 yards, including the 13-yard TD. . . . Safety Malik Hooker led the Colts with 12 tackles and rookie linebacker Zaire Franklin added 11. . . . The defense entered the game with 17 sacks, second-most in the NFL, but failed to get to Brady. It did come away with two interceptions – Farley and linebacker Najee Goode. . . . Adam Vinatieri converted a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter, after ricocheting a 38-yard attempt in the first quarter off the left upright