FOXBOROUGH – It looked initially like Indianapolis really should have considered forfeiting this game. The score was 24-3 at halftime, and if you were the Colts, you had to feel like it was worse than that.
New England, buoyed by the return of Julian "Flying Squirrel" Edelman, did almost everything right during the first two quarters. Were it not for a few of their own mistakes – a wide-open Edelman dropping a third-down pass, for instance – the score probably would have been a lot higher.
"Oh, it was great to have Julian back," tight end Rob Gronkowski proclaimed. "He's been bringing the [energy] since Monday, and it just helps the offense out big-time. The way he can move underneath the coverages, get open, get yards, get first downs – it's just awesome to have him back."
"It was awesome to get the team win," Edelman said afterward. "Obviously, we could do a lot more better, but any time you beat a team in the conference, it's great."
In fairness, Thursday night games are normally tough Indianapolis was playing with a skeleton crew. The Colts declared seven players out on Wednesday, including a number of important players, then another handful of Colts on the 46-man game day roster were unavailable to play due to health issues. A couple more were knocked out of the game with injuries.
At times, this felt like a training camp practice against a scout team. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was experimenting with personnel groupings and dialing up creative play calls.
The defense looked invigorated as well: a double-team sack of Colts QB Andrew Luck on the opening series, an INT later in the half, and Devin McCourty's phenomenal theft of the ball while tackling Indy RB Jordan Wilkins in the third quarter were among the highlights.
Yet, even with their players dropping like flies, the Colts managed to make it a one-score game in the early fourth quarter. Give them a lot of credit for putting up a respectable fight.
"It was basically the third quarter. We just weren't doing our jobs," Gronkowski explained. "That one [pass] that I got the interception off of, it hit my hands, and I've just got to bring that in. Mistakes like that definitely put the offense down and give the other team a chance."
The war of attrition they were battling eventually got the better of Indy, though. Before they could finish celebrating their penultimate touchdown, the Patriots put two more on the board, and just like that, it was 38-17. Indy would tag another one on with about a minute left, but the outcome was already decided by then.
"It's all about keeping your foot on the gas," observed rookie running back Sony Michel, who narrowly missed out on a second consecutive 100-yard rushing effort. "In the game of football, there are going to be ups and downs. You've got to know how to handle it."
If you're looking for areas to nitpick, you could find them. The short-yardage running game remains a weak point for this offense. Sloppiness continues to plague the Patriots, particularly with the inordinate amount of penalties they've incurred of late, and several dropped passes by receivers, two of which resulted in interceptions. The secondary also needs to tighten up its pass coverage more consistently.
Once 1-2, the team is now 3-2, with 10 days before their next opponent, the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs, visit Gillette. Players acknowledge that New England isn't close to being the team it wants to become this season, but they've done their best to this point to put themselves in a position to be more successful going forward.
"Yes. I felt like that from the beginning of the year," added Gronkowski. "You have your ups and downs. You've just got to stay positive and keep working."
"When you get adversity, lose two games, if you want to be a good team, you can't go in the tank," declared McCourty. "We expected just to put our heads down and work. When you do that, you get the good results. Now it's up to us to keep our foot on the gas.
"I'm definitely going to rest up, and I think it'll help. Ten days won't help unless we take advantage by getting rest and studying."