The Patriots stifled the Colts on Sunday as New England closed out the first half(ish) of their schedule with a win that moved New England to 5-4 overall in 2022, their first time with a winning record this season. The Pats won 26-3, mainly on the back of consistent stops by their defense and consistent plays on special teams, as their offense continued their season-long struggle to consistently move the ball and finish drives with touchdowns.
It was a dominant effort by the defense, led by their best pass rushers who took Colts QB Sam Ehlinger down seven times. Matthew Judon had three sacks that kept him atop the league with 11.5 overall, while Josh Uche chipped in a trio of his own. The team tied a franchise record with nine sacks in the game and they told a big part of the story.
Special teams were critical as well with a key punt block by Jonathan Jones as well as the steady leg of Nick Folk (four field goals) playing key parts in the victory, setting up or accounting for the majority of the points scored by New England.
Here are the key takeaways as the Patriots head into their bye week on a two-game win streak!
Sack party starts suffocating defensive effort
It was a grind for both offenses at the start of the game with each team trading three punts in the first quarter. The Patriots defense got the sack party started on third down, with Matthew Judon coming up with two early sacks and Ja'Whaun Bentley chipping in one of his own, as New England held Indy's offense in check with -2 yards of offense through the first frame.
Daniel Ekuale would get in on the action later in the first half, while Josh Uche would heat up and log three sacks of his own as the Patriots defense dominated on third down, not allowing an official conversion (0-14) on the day.
The pressure would mount a bit in the third quarter after a Jakobi Meyers fumble set up the Colts inside Patriots territory but once again the sack masters would come through with Judon picking up his third of the contest to hold Indy to a field goal.
New England would come up with back-to-back stops on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 as the game moved into the fourth quarter. That closed the door on any Colts comeback attempt. Jonathan Jones' pick-six would close things out with an exclamation point.
The Patriots front was stout through the contest, never allowing the Colts ground game to find its stride and thus putting the game on the arm of Sam Ehlinger who struggled to make plays in the passing game. When put in third-down situations, the Pats pass rush feasted.
Jonnu Smith and Marcus Jones spark points
The Patriots offense struggled to get going but on their fourth possession a well-executed screen pass to Jonnu Smith picked up 24 yards and then Rhamondre Stevenson took a toss for 11 yards on the next play. Those would be the only two first downs of the drive but they were enough to set up a 49-yard field goal from Nick Folk that opened the scoring in the early second quarter.
On the next possession, Marcus Jones ripped off an impressive 23-yard punt return that set the Patriots up at the Indy 43. It was a battle of fits and starts from there, with a holding penalty setting them back but a 16-yard run by Rhamondre Stevenson helping offset the call. Again the offense hit a high-red-zone roadblock but fell back upon the reliable leg of Nick Folk, whose 43-yarder made it 6-0 Pats.
Those two big plays were the spark the offense needed to get some points up on the scoreboard that would ultimately be enough for the win.
Blocked punt breaks it open
2019 was the last time the Patriots blocked a punt and they aggressively went after Indy in the second quarter with the Colts backed up deep to get their first in three seasons. Jonathan Jones moved in from his outside gunner spot at the snap, flying unblocked into the backfield, blocking the punt which was recovered at the three-yard-line by rookie Brendan Schooler.
Two plays later Mac Jones hit Stevenson out of the backfield for a touchdown as New England grew their lead to 13-0.
Matthew Slater mentioned during the week that the Colts had dominated special teams in last year's contest, which included a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown that helped Indy break the game open. This time it was the Patriots that made the same kind of key play and there was no looking back from there.
Patriots are 5-4
The Patriots faced a far different Colts team than last year's team or even compared to the one they started the season and Indy never really was able to get anything going on offense save for one situational drive at the end of the first half and the points off of the Meyers turnover. Give credit to the Patriots defense, they've proven they're more than capable of stopping an offense like this and they often do it as they did it Sunday, in near-total shutdown fashion.
Offensively, there's still much work to be done, as Mac and the top unit look to string some long touchdown-scoring drives together. Once again Stevenson was a reliable playmaker who made a difference, but the formula has grown predictable and likely to fail against the better teams in the NFL. With a bye week off, the coaching staff could be looking for new twists to finally find some consistency in the passing game. Getting healthy along the offensive line is an important factor as well, as the use of Yodny Cajuste at right tackle could also be a permanent option to consider.
With eight games to go the Pats remain in the thick of the playoff race but with a difficult slate of games quickly approaching that will define New England's season.