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Game Observations: Patriots couldn't overcome sloppy start

A variety of thoughts about the 2021 Patriots' Week 15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

2021-GameObservations-16x9

We learned a lot about these 2021 Patriots and their rookie quarterback, Mac Jones, during this painful defeat in Indianapolis. Most notably, how they would respond when they got way behind on the scoreboard and were playing a miserable game. They found out Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, and while frustrating, the answer was also somewhat promising.

Sure, they were down 13 points in Houston earlier this season and managed to come back and win, but that was against the woeful Texans. But a double-digit deficit on the road against a quality opponent like the Colts is a different story. Indy's a good team, probably a playoff-bound team, and a team very equal to the Patriots in many respects.

Trailing by three scores in the 3rd quarter, with absolutely nothing going their way, the Patriots found a spark in the most unlikely of ways, and with some help from the Colts themselves.

First, safety Kyle Dugger's ejection from the game – an offsetting penalty after a scuffle with Indy's leading wide receiver Michael Pittman, who was also tossed – gave the Patriots a hockey-like infusion of energy. Then, instead of using the league's top running back to drain the clock, the Colts chose to ignore Jonathan Taylor for much of the 3rd quarter and focus more on their passing game, and it cost them. Early in the 4th quarter, they turned the ball over with a Carson Wentz INT shortly after Jones found tight end Hunter Henry for the first of two late touchdown receptions, and suddenly, New England had hope.

Look, the Colts finally realized they had to go back to Taylor, who had 73 first-half rushing yards and nearly as many on his game-clinching TD run. And give them and their head coach, Frank Reich, credit for flummoxing the Patriots and Jones for three full quarters.

But the Patriots still showed why the came into this contest as the leader in the AFC East and the top seed in the conference. Now, of course, with the loss, they've slipped down the playoff standings for the time being, but this New England team exhibited a resilience that could come in handy down this final stretch of the season, when they'll face more quality opponents even before the postseason gets underway.

This loss was nonetheless a good measuring stick. Here are some other thoughts about what unfolded at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night:

* * *

Indy's D showed Mac Jones several different pre-snap looks in the early going, which seemed to confuse the young passer at times after he dropped back to throw. The Colts lead league with at least one turnover created in every game this season, and Jones was fortunate not to have more than the two interceptions he tossed Saturday. At least a couple of other incompletions he threw should have been easy INTs for the Colts' defense, but the players involved dropped the ball.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of Jones' best throws of the night fell incomplete. On an early 3rd-down, he placed a perfect pass downfield to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who simply dropped the ball. Very next play, the Colts blocked Jake Bailey's punt and recovered it for a TD.

Jones' best series may have been the one at the end of the first half that ended, ironically, with a Darius Leonard interception in the red zone. But trailing 17-0, Jones completed a few big passes to move his team into scoring position. Again, though, the Colts' defense fooled him into the pick. Later in the game, Jones looked much more confident and seemed to adjust to what the Colts were showing him.

* * *

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
AttemptsCompletionsYardsSacks/YardsTDLongINT
45262991/152432

Incompletions vs. IND

Table inside Article
TotalThrowawaysOverthrowsUnderthrowsBatted PassesDropsPasses DefensedINT
193520162

Incompletions in 2021

Table inside Article
TotalThrowawaysOverthrowsUnderthrowsBatted PassesDropsPasses DefensedINT
1331442175103510

That punt block just looked like a great individual play by Indy's Matthew Adams, who squeezed past Jakob Johnson up the middle to get close enough to Bailey's extended leg and block the kick.

Meanwhile, in other special teams news, an untimely offside penalty by Brandon King nullified a Colts missed field goal. Kicker Michael Badgley would convert the shortened 41-yard field goal to extend Indy's lead to 20-0. That's 10 points scored directly off special teams mistakes.

* * *

Down 20-0, the Patriots were fortunate not to lose a second-half fumble by rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson that would have given the Colts the ball at the New England 33-yard line. Heads-up play by TE Jonnu Smith to recover the loose ball and keep possession for the Patriots.

* * *

Indianapolis shut New England out in the first half, the first time that's happened in a hundred games, dating back to 2016.

* * *

New England committed eight penalties this game, several of them in critical situations. The loud Lucas Oil crowd appeared to contribute to at three of those by helping cause three different Patriots into false starts on offense. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn seems to draw one flag almost every game this season, and he filled that quota with a false start late in the 3rd quarter when New England had gotten itself into the Colts' red zone.

Wynn had a tough night overall. He was beaten by DE DeForest Buckner with a speed move to the inside during the first half, resulting in Jones' only sack of the game (which came on an important 3rd down). Next series, Wynn bumped into Stevenson in the backfield which caused Stevenson to lose yardage.

* * *

Edge rusher Matthew Judon may not have had a sack to his name, but one of his pressures led to Deatrich Wise taking down Wentz on a key 3rd down. Judon made an impact even if he didn't get credit on the stat sheet.

* * *

New England suffered several injuries Saturday that bear watching going forward. Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley left early with a left ankle problem. Later, after making several crucial catches throughout the game, wide receiver Nelson Agholor got shaken up while making one such grab and couldn't continue.

Rotational defensive lineman Carl Davis and wide receiver N'Keal Harry both had to leave prematurely as well after collisions with Indianapolis players.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

Linebacker Jamie Collins' tipped pass in the 4th quarter, intercepted by safety Devin McCourty. Having just scored to make it 20-7, the Patriots got the ball back near midfield and reclaimed momentum in the game. The turnover eventually led to a Nick Folk field goal.

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