Foxborough, Mass. – Less than 24 hours after the New England Patriots were exploited by the Indianapolis Colts' running game in Thursday night's season-opening 27-24 victory, head coach Bill Belichick said his team's run defense is his top defensive priority.
The Colts rushed for 202 yards in the opener en route to 446 total yards and 28 first downs, controlling the line of scrimmage throughout most of the game. The rushing total was more than the Patriots surrendered at any point last season when they ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing defense. The Patriots allowed only one 100-yard rusher last season and surrendered 100 total yards rushing by a team on four occasions.
Belichick said the performance wasn't the result of a specific weakness, but rather the execution of the total team defense.
"We had some problems, there were some times when we played better than others in the running game," Belichick said. "It wasn't very consistent. They had a couple of good backs that ran hard and broke some tackles. Some of it is tackling, some of it is poor fundamental football. Some things we probably need to do a little better job coaching; they had a good plan that gave us some problems. Am I concerned about it? Yes, absolutely. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that need to be fixed in all three phases of the game. Defensively, that's at the top of the list."
With an arsenal of weapons to defend, the Patriots were punished by Edgerrin James, who rushed for 142 yards on 30 attempts and often found his way into the secondary before being brought down. Had the end result been different, the porous run defense may be garnering more attention. Because they escaped with a win, the Patriots can rest on the fact that not only was the high-powered Indianapolis offense a good gauge of where the defense is at, but also an indication of what changes need to be made.
"It's good to see where you're at. You can get a false sense of what type of team you have if you play against a mediocre team," Richard Seymour said. "We played against one of the best. We still have work to do. That's the most important thing – we won – but we still have a lot of work to do, especially defensively. I think they exploited some things. I think it will definitely be a good tape to watch in terms of adjustments and how teams are going to be playing us. They did a good job of game planning against us."
Dungy Deeply Disappointed
Colts head coach Tony Dungy, now in his third season in Indianapolis, was clearly upset after his team's disappointing loss on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. The 27-24 defeat marked the third consecutive for his team against Belichick's squad, two of which have come thanks to an inability to score from the one-yard line.
After the game Dungy said he was as disappointed with the loss to the defending champs as he has ever been.
"I talk to the team a lot about perceptions and reality," Dungy said. "And the reality is that it doesn't matter who you play, you have to play well…the better team that you play the less mistakes you can afford to make. New England forces you into mistakes. They did a good job. They got a sack on our last drive. We've got a protection and we can't hear it, I guess. We don't block in right. Those are things you can't do. You can't fumble at the one-yard line. You can't fumble going in. You can't throw interceptions going in. You can't let them convert third-and-15. It doesn't matter who you are playing, but if you play a team like New England you won't win the game when you do things like that."
And for the third straight time in less than a year, the Colts didn't.
Similar to the disappointment of their head coach, the mood in the Colts locker room following the loss, from Peyton Manning to James and the rest of the squad, pointed to a missed opportunity. Confident in their abilities, a number of Colts weren't sure the better team won at Gillette Stadium.
"It's quiet and everybody is kind of upset," backup running back Dominic Rhodes said of the locker room atmosphere. "It's a game that we felt we should have won. We had plenty of opportunities to win. We let one get away that we should have won."
"When there are two good teams good things are going to happen on both sides," kicker Mike Vanderjagt said. "We clearly shot ourselves in the foot in the red zone – an interception on the goal line, a fumble on the goal line and another fumble on the 18 on first-and-10 and a missed field goal. You can't win games against good teams when you do those things."
Veteran running back Kevin Faulk missed Thursday's game and remains away from the team to attend to personal family issues. Belichick said he spoke to Faulk "a couple of days ago" but had no update on when he would return to the team. Belichick was also mum on a reported knee injury that Faulk suffered on Aug. 28 against the Carolina Panthers.
Cornerback Ty Law wasn't able to finish Thursday's game because of tightening in his right leg, but felt afterwards he would be ready to go against Arizona in Week 2. Belichick didn't think the fact that Law hadn't played in the previous two preseason games had anything do with the injury.
"I don't think it was really any type of issue going into the game," Belichick said. "It tightened up during the game. It happened to some other guys too. It's like that in a lot of games early in the year. Nobody in the NFL has played a whole game in the preseason, at least none that I know of."
· The Patriots re-signed wide receiver Michael Jennings to the practice squad Friday morning. Jennings, who spent the entire preseason with the team, had been released from the practice squad Tuesday.
· Belichick didn't have much of a comment on the Patriots current winning 16-game winning streak, saying "Not much, we won one game, that's it. We lost the three before that. The regular season started, we're 1-0, and we have 15 more to go. The only one we can do anything about is the Arizona game. That's really all we're thinking about. I don't care about last year, two years ago, 1997 or anything else."
· Belichick on playing under pressure: "Winning or losing in the NFL is about execution. It's not about banging your head against a wall or a locker on your way out to the field. That's not what this game is about. That's over by the second play. What this game is about is whether or not you can execute under pressure in critical situations. Those critical situations can change in a hurry, games go back-and-forth, and it goes down to what team can make a few plays at the critical times that provide the difference in the game. The team that makes them wins."
· The coaching staff is expected to give the team the weekend off, not returning to practice until Tuesday.