FOXBORO, Mass. — The Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night fell to the New England Patriots, 38-24, at Gillette Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts as they move to 1-4 on the season?
Running back. Tight end. Wide receiver. Left tackle. Right tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Cornerback.
Before the Colts even kicked off Thursday night's primetime matchup against the New England Patriots, they were going to be missing starters at every single one of those positions.
But New England wasn't going to let up because of its opponent's injuries — and, unfortunately for Indianapolis, it wouldn't stop from there.
In the first half alone, linebacker Anthony Walker (concussion), safety Clayton Geathers (neck/concussion), defensive tackle Margus Hunt (knee), Denico Autry (hamstring) — all starters on the defensive side of the ball — would be knocked out of the game. Then, in the second half, it was safety Matthias Farley (hamstring).
If the injuries weren't enough, the Colts simply struggled on both sides of the ball Thursday night against the defending AFC champions.
That's not to say there wasn't fight — after all, Indy cut the New England lead to one score after a 13-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Erik Swoope made it 24-17 with 9:53 left in the fourth quarter.
But, in the end, it was mistakes — and not a lack of playmakers — that hurt the Colts the most on Thursday night. Dropped passes, timely penalties, a lack of a consistent pass rush all contributed to the loss.
Is there a silver lining in all this? No, probably not if you're the Colts. Perhaps the only plus coming out of this game is that the team has a few extra days to heal up and, it hopes, be able to field many more of its key players on Oct. 14, when the Colts travel to New Jersey to take on the New York Jets.
Give Tom Brady time to throw, and he's going to make you pay.
And the Colts paid on Thursday night.
After getting the Patriots' lead to just seven, 24-17, with just less than 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Colts thought they had the makings of a major upset brewing.
But Brady drove his troops right down the field on the ensuing drive, and with 9:28 to go, the Patriots faced a 1st and 10 from the Indianapolis 34 yard line.
Lined up under center, Brady dropped back and, boy, did he have time to throw. We're talking six-plus seconds here. Finally, he launched a pass towards the end zone towards his newest target, Josh Gordon, who had two Colts defenders — Chris Milton and Matthias Farley — around him.
Somehow, someway, however, it was Gordon who came down with the catch for the touchdown, and New England's lead was once again at 14 points.
The Patriots wouldn't look back from there.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Had the Colts been able to stop the Patriots on that aforementioned drive that ended with the 34-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gordon, and then somehow tie the game up or pull ahead and escape with a win, it would be a momentum-stealing play by the defense that would be the talk of the town.
After the Patriots recovered a lost fumble by rookie running back Jordan Wilkins, who was fighting for extra yards after catching a pass from Luck near midfield, New England took over at the 50 up comfortably, 24-10, with five minutes left in the third quarter.
And, like Brady and the Patriots tend to do, they started to move the ball from there.
But on 2nd and 20 from the Indianapolis 25-yard line, New England made a rare mistake. Brady tried to fit a pass into a tight window to his tight end Rob Gronkowski, and safety Matthias Farley — who had picked Brady off earlier in the game — got his hands on the ball, and linebacker Najee Goode was able to pluck it out of the air for his first-career interception.
Goode had a 16-yard return to the Indianapolis 20-yard line, and Luck went to work, leading the Colts on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that took just 2:12 off the clock and culminated in the aforementioned 13-yard touchdown pass to Swoope that cut the Patriots' lead to seven, 24-17, with 12:52 left in the game.
Perhaps under different circumstances, plays like that would lead to even more of a momentum boost. That just wasn't in the cards for the Colts on Thursday.
Eric Ebron caught a career-high five touchdown passes back in 2015 as a member of the Detroit Lions.
With two touchdown grabs on Thursday, Ebron has tied that career high already. Remember: its Week 5.
Ebron, who has been battling through shoulder and knee injuries, had a career-best performance on Thursday night, catching nine passes for 105 yards and two scores.
While the Colts have certainly been missing the services of Jack Doyle the last three games, Ebron has really stepped up in the passing game for Indy.
He now has 26 receptions for 255 yards and five touchdowns on the season, and is on pace for career-highs in receptions (83), receiving yards (816) and touchdowns (16).
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• Luck went right for the Colts. He completed 38-of-59 pass attempts for 365 yards with three touchdowns to two interceptions — one of which was a giveaway by wide receiver Zach Pascal — and did everything he could to try to will his team back into this game. Luck has been tasked with throwing the ball a crazy amount the last two games. Remember just four days ago, when he completed 40-of-62 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns? Yeah — Luck is back. And he might be better than ever.
• Not to get lost in Ebron's career day was a nice performance from fellow tight end Erik Swoope. Swoope has actually been moved off and on the active roster and practice squad a couple times in recent weeks, but there's no doubt about his abilities as a mismatch down the field. Swoope had three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots, and almost logged a second touchdown on an impressive grab in the fourth quarter, but a review indicated the tight end had stepped out at the half-yard line. But an overall nice day for Swoope.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
• Drops. They're going to happen from game to game, but they were especially damaging for the Colts on Thursday night. The blame can go around in this area to several pass catchers — no drop, really, less damaging from the next. But with top receiving targets T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle not playing, those are the types of mental and physical mistakes that simply can't happen in a game like this.
• A positive? The Colts were only called for four penalties for 35 yards on Thursday night. But it's a penalty that ended up being wiped out due to a mistake that could be considered very costly. After the Colts got the Patriots' lead to seven, 24-17, early in the fourth quarter, Brady, on 1st and 10 from the Indy 48, tossed an 11-yard pass to James White. But the refs threw a flag on tackle Marcus Cannon for a tripping penalty, which would've taken away that pass play and put the Patriots back in their own territory. But at the end of the play, cornerback Lenzy Pipkins came in and shoved a New England Player, drawing a personal foul call. The offensive and defensive penalties offset, and it allowed New England to reset, Three plays later, Brady found Gordon for the touchdown and Indy wasn't coming back from that.
• The Colts came into Thursday night's game No. 2 in the NFL with 17 sacks. If one franchise knows the importance of keeping constant pressure on Brady, it's the Colts, so they were hoping to do the same this time around. But in the first half, Indy wasn't credited with a single sack — or even a single quarterback hit. In fact, the only time a Colts player touched Brady, they grazed his helmet with their hand and they were called for a roughing the passer penalty. The pressure picked up a little in the second half, but the Colts still finished the game with zero sacks and just three total QB hits.
— Four players in all left Thursday night's game and didn't return: Geathers (neck/concussion), Walker (concussion), Farley (hamstring) and Autry (hamstring). We'll hope to get an update on those players — as well as several others who didn't play — from head coach Frank Reich on Friday.
The Colts get a much-needed weekend off to heal up and get ready for their Week 6 matchup against the New York Jets Oct. 14 at MetLife Stadium. The Jets enter their Week 5 home game on Sunday against the Denver Broncos with a 1-3 record. New York's offense is 29th in the league in total offense (289.2 yards per game), while they're 13th in total offense (355.5 yards allowed per game).
The Colts traveled to New England to take on the Patriots on Thursday Night Football.