INDIANAPOLIS - Give the Colts credit.
They tried. They tried very hard, by pulling out all the tricks they thought they had.
There was bound to be something fluky, controversial, or unforeseen. Of course there would be. Patriots-Colts games are rarely devoid of such drama.
After Tom Brady threw his first interception of the season – a pick-six that gave the Colts a 14-10 first-half lead - Indy attempted a surprise on-side kick for which New England seemed entirely unprepared. After a pileup of bodies, the officials granted the Patriots possession, but it looked like the Colts had actually recovered the football.
Later, replays showed that Colts WR T.Y. Hilton actually dropped the football on Indy's go-ahead touchdown late in the first half.
But those weren't even close to being the weirdest moments of the night. No, that would come later.
But first... It was interesting that New England's game plan on offense did not involve running the ball down Indy's throats - a formula that had worked so successfully in the most recent meetings between these clubs. The Patriots opted to focus on the pass, yet All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was not a factor in that in the first half. He went catchless until the third quarter, when he finally snagged a couple of passes, including a go-ahead touchdown.
Was it stunning that the Patriots came out with a pass-first mentality? Not really. They wanted to put up lots of points against the team that sparked the DeflateGate controversy.
The New England Patriots take on the Indianapolis Colts in a regular season game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, October 18, 2015.
But Indianapolis was equally motivated. They'd been embarrassed by the Patriots both at home and in Foxborough in recent meetings. Thoroughly embarrassed, and they were determined not to let it happen again.
They proved early that they weren't intimidated by the unbeaten Patriots. They weren't content to be overrun by a powerful offense that many observers were expecting to post a record number of points. They even went into the half with a one-point lead.
And even with the Patriots clinging to a 27-21 lead late in the third quarter, it almost felt like New England was losing the game.
But then the Colts outsmarted themselves. They tried to beat the Patriots at their own game... at it didn't work.
Indy tried an unconventional, college-type fake punt formation, putting the ball – and in essence, the outcome of the game - in the hands of a player named Colt - yes, Colt - Anderson. New England's punt return unit reacted brilliantly to the ruse, smothering Anderson as soon as he took the snap form under center. While the rest of his teammates were lined up in a bunch formation to the far right, Anderson and the snapper were overwhelmed by Brandon Bolden et al. To add insult to injury, the Colts were penalized for not lining up the formation properly, so New England declined and took over on downs deep in Colts territory.
That play really... took the air... out of the Colts sails, if you will.
"To be honest, I thought they were hard-counting [to draw an offside penalty]," linebacker Jon Bostic admitted later. He was one of the Patriots who swarmed Anderson at the snap. "But they snapped it. They thought they had a good look, but we made a good play on it."
Safety Nate Ebner was another. He acknowledged that there was initially some confusion on the part of him and his teammates, but that they quickly realized what the Colts were trying to do.
"It worked out in our favor because everyone was prepared," Ebner observed, adding he wasn't surprised that the Colts decided to try the risky play so deep in their own territory.
"They needed a play. We just adjusted correctly."
Logan Ryan, a third defender in on the play, conceded that he was taken aback.
"Yeah, in all my years, I've never seen that play before," he smiled. "There's a numbers system when teams do muddle-huddle. We figured we had good numbers on the outside and had three-on-two on the inside, so... and obviously they were confused. We were definitely aware for the hard-count and any gadget play they had. I didn't think they wanted to [snap the ball], but they did and we felt we had the numbers advantage on the inside to be able to make the play."
Even at that point, the Colts and gritty QB Andrew Luck did their best not to throw in the towel. To their credit, they cut New England's lead to seven, but an incredible athletic play by Jamie Collins - timing the snap and leaping over the long snapper to block the extra point - was the emphatic exclamation point to New England's thrilling victory.
In the final analysis, the Colts just didn't have the horses to compete with New England yet again. They gave it their best, for sure, and the victorious Patriots were less than perfect in their execution.
But after all the buildup to this game, and the way it played out, you have to believe that Indianapolis went home feeling a little... what's the word I'm looking for?
Ah, yes, that's right.