INDIANAPOLIS – For one half on Sunday night, the Colts were not only throwing more punches than the Patriots, they were connecting at a higher rate.
But as the rounds moved on and the clock ticked toward midnight, the Colts could not sustain arguably their best half of football this season.
A one-point halftime lead over the undefeated Patriots would not last and the Colts fell, 34-27, to the defending Super Bowl Champions.
"We were going to be aggressive. We wanted to attack this football team," Chuck Pagano said after the Colts dropped back to .500 on the season.
The Colts wanted to send an early message on Sunday night and accomplished that with their first opening possession touchdown in 21 games.
A fade pattern to Donte Moncrief on a fourth-and-one gave Indianapolis an early 7-0 lead, forcing New England to (rarely) play from behind.
"It was productive, efficient," Andrew Luck, who was back in the lineup on Sunday night, said of the 13-play, 89-yard drive to start Sunday night.
The Colts and Patriots would trade blows for the next quarter and a half, with the home team appearing to have a chance for separation in the second quarter.
After a Mike Adams pick six, the Colts led 14-10 and went for an early knockout.
An onside kick attempt from Pat McAfee bounced around with the officials awarding the ball to New England. However, after a replay showed Moncrief springing from the pile with the football, Pagano tossed the red challenge flag.
A review led to the officials sticking with their original call after they could not conclusively see that Moncrief had complete recovery.
"Clearly on the replay, we thought from that, we saw a clean recovery," Pagano said.
"When (Moncrief) came out of the pile we thought there was no way we could lose that but obviously that was a huge deal in the game. That would have been a great way to steal another possession."
The teams would trade touchdown drives before New England added a late half field goal to cut the Colts lead to 21-20 at intermission.
It was an opening half script that had eluded the Colts in recent Patriots matchups.
With Luck clicking, Frank Gore gashing the Patriots and T.Y. Hilton getting involved, the Colts had their first halftime-lead over New England since the 2008 season.
The 30-minute success on Sunday night would not last though.
New England re-took the lead on the first possession of the third quarter, with the Patriots finally getting Rob Gronkowski involved in a big way. Gronk, who was held catch less in the first half, had two catches on the drive including a 25-yard touchdown giving the Patriots a lead they would not give up.
A first half shootout slowed to a punt off for much of the third quarter, before the game took another turn.
Down 27-21 with 1:14 left in the third quarter, the Colts lined up for a punt at their own 37-yard line.
Instead of punting, the Colts shifted into an unusual alignment with (safety) Colt Anderson lined up as a quarterback and (wide receiver) Griff Whalen at center. The other nine Colts on the punt coverage team lined up to the right side of the field.
Anderson then took the snap from Whalen and was stuffed for a one-yard loss, with flags flying.
The Colts were called for an illegal formation, giving the football back to New England with a short field.
"The punt play, I take responsibility," Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said.
"The whole idea there was to shift to an alignment where you either catch them misaligned, they try to sub some people in, (or you) catch them with 12 men on the field. And if you get a certain look, you have three yards, two yards to make a play. Again, we shifted over and I didn't do a good enough job coaching it during the week. We weren't lined up correctly and then (there was) a communication breakdown between the quarterback and the snapper. That's all on me…Obviously it played a huge factor in this loss."
A Patriots touchdown drive would ensue from there and the Colts could not muster a two-score comeback the rest of the way.
Luck's first game action in three weeks was also his finest outing so far this season. Luck was 30-of-50 for 312 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Colts (3-3) now hold a one game lead in the AFC South and will return to Lucas Oil Stadium next Sunday to take on the New Orleans Saints (2-4).