Were they located anywhere but the AFC East, where their 4-4 record has them in first place with a one-game lead, the Patriots wouldn't even have much of a shot at an AFC playoff berth.
The Patriots gave up 40 points at home for the second time this season and allowed the Colts to end a six-game losing streak against the Patriots that dated back to the 2000 season.
The Colts gave the Patriots a serious thrashing on both sides of the ball, with the worst of the punishment inflicted by the Indianapolis offense and its marquee players. QB Peyton Manning completed 28 of 37 passes for 321 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. RB Edgerrin James carried 34 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. Wide receivers Marvin Harrison (nine catches, 128 yards, two touchdowns) and Reggie Wayne (nine catches, 124 yards, one touchdown) found openings in the New England secondary all night long.
The Patriots came into the game needing a huge game from their defense to stop the Colts, but they didn't get it. Manning set the tone from the start, connecting with Harrison on a 48-yard pass on the game's second play. Four plays later, the same duo connected again for a 1-yard touchdown, and the Patriots were in a 7-0 hole just two-and-a-half minutes into the game.
The Patriots answered with a nice scoring drive of their own. After Patriots QB Tom Brady hit WR Deion Branch for a 16-yard touchdown pass, the score was tied, and the stage was set for a shootout.
Unfortunately, the Patriots went cold while the Colts kept rolling. After going 54 yards for a touchdown on their first drive, the Colts went 68 yards for a touchdown on the second possession and 73 yards for a touchdown on their fourth possession, creating a 21-7 halftime lead. Then on their first possession of the second half, the Colts went 60 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead.
The proud defense that helped the Patriots win three of the last four Super Bowls seems like only a memory now. Some of the best players remain -- Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel -- but too much talent has been drained. The retirement of LB Ted Johnson, the free agent defection of CB Ty Law and injuries to S Rodney Harrison, DE Richard Seymour and CB Tyrone Poole have rendered the New England defense ordinary.
On Monday night, the Patriots at times featured Mike Wright at defensive end, Mike Stone at safety, Ellis Hobbs at nickel back and Monty Beisel at linebacker. The cupboard is bare in Foxboro.
The Colts lit up the Patriots to the tune of 453 total yards, 28 first downs, and 12-of-17 third-down conversions.
New England's fortunes could improve with better health, but the defense suffered yet another blow when DE Ty Warren was knocked from the game.
The only way for the Patriots to contend when their defense is so shaky is to get the job done on offense, but that wasn't happening either on Monday night. While the Colts were moving the ball consistently in the first half, the Patriots were getting mixed results on the field and nothing on the scoreboard after their first possession.
The Patriots went three-and-out on their second possession, with two of their three plays going for negative yards. On their third possession, New England moved the ball well and used a 35-yard pass from Brady to David Givens to reach the Indianapolis 17, but the wheels came off when RB Corey Dillon got dropped for a 5-yard loss and then fumbled -- all on one play.
That play was the low point of another off night for Dillon, who gained only 40 yards on 12 carries.
Dillon barely carried the ball in the second half, as the Patriots abandoned the run (four carries) and took to the air instead (30 passes).
Brady passed well for most of the game, completing 22 of 33 passes for 265 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He hooked up with Branch for five times for 58 yards and a touchdown. Brady was under heavy pressure often, however, and was violently sacked once by Colts DE Raheem Brock.
New England's coaching also contributed to the debacle. After the Patriots scored on a spectacular 31-pass from Brady to Daniel Graham with 5:56 remaining in the third quarter to get within 14 points, the team attempted an onside kick, but the Colts recovered and set up shop at the New England 22-yard-line. Instead of having the ball and chance to close within seven points, the Patriots surrendered a field goal, fell behind 31-14 and lost any semblance of momentum.
The New England defense had one sparkling moment when Vrabel picked off a Manning pass with 5:40 remaining in the first half, but the takeaway was wasted by Dillon's fumble.
The Patriots were awful on kick returns, as KR Bethel Johnson ran right into the teeth of the Colts' defense on nearly every return and averaged only 17 yards on seven returns, Indianapolis had been allowing an average of 23.2 yards per return coming into the game.
The schedule now offers a respite for the Patriots' beleaguered defense. Only one remaining opponent -- Kansas City -- ranks higher than 20th in scoring in the NFL. Next up are the Dolphins next Sunday in Miami. The Dolphins are 3-5, having lost four of their last five.