INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts fell to 1-4 on the season Sunday with a 38-24 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The short-handed Colts — missing their starting running back, wide receiver, tight end, left tackle, right tackle, WILL linebacker and two cornerbacks entering the game — fell into a 24-3 hole by halftime, but were able to cut that lead to just seven points, 24-17, at the 12:48 mark of the fourth quarter.
But Tom Brady and the Patriots would do their thing from there, and ultimately, untimely mistakes (drops and turnovers, particularly) would allow New England to pull away and get the victory.
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Thursday's game against the Patriots:
• TOUGH SLEDDING: Neither Reich nor his players will ever use injuries as an excuse — after all, every team deals with them. But it's safe to assume not many teams in recent history have been as depleted as the Colts were heading into Thursday's game — and it got worse throughout the contest. After a grueling overtime loss to the Houston Texans just five days prior, the Colts were down at least seven starters — eight if you count left tackle Anthony Castonzo, whose hamstring injury made him, at best, an emergency option — against the Patriots. Then, during the game, four more key players, all on the defensive side of the ball, left the game and didn't return. The Colts preach "next man up," however, and believe even their reserves should be able to go out and perform at a high level against any opponent. There were flashes of solid play against New England on Thursday, but ultimately Indy just didn't have enough firepower and juice to get the job done.
• BETTER THAN EVER?: For a second straight game — and for the second time in five days — Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was tasked with a heavy workload throwing-wise, and was an absolute stud. Luck on Thursday completed 38-of-59 passes (64 percent) for 365 yards and three touchdowns to two interceptions, and while one of his picks was an ill-timed throw, the second was completely on the receiver. For a second straight week, Luck was especially electric in the second half, when he completed 24-of-38 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns to one pick. Luck has now attempted 121 passes over the last two games, which according to ESPN Stats & Info is the second-most in a two-game span in NFL history, and the most ever in a five-day span. Without several key weapons the last couple weeks, Luck hasn't missed a beat, and it could be fair to wonder if he's ever played better football in his career.
• NOT IDEAL: Already shorthanded entering the game, the Colts wanted to play as close to flawless football as they could to help offset their losses. That didn't end up playing out, however. Whether it was a flurry of dropped passes — a few of which came at critical junctures of the ballgame — a costly penalty here or there or a complete lack of a consistent pass rush, Indy didn't do itself any favors on Thursday night.
• 7-ELEVEN: When the Colts signed free agent tight end Eric Ebron earlier this year, he claimed that he told Luck he could call him "7-Eleven" because he's "always open." Whether meant as a joke or not, Ebron has lived up to that nickname so far through five games in his first season with the Colts — and Thursday's game against the Patriots was the best of his career. The former first-round pick logged a team-best nine receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns, and was open all over the field all night for Luck to find. With Jack Doyle out of the lineup the last three games with a hip injury, the team has needed Ebron to step up in his place as a reliable target down the field, and that's exactly what has happened. Ebron is on pace to smash career bests in receptions, yards and touchdowns, and his connection with Luck seems like something that could be an issue for opposing defenses for years to come.
• NOTES OF INTEREST:
— Thursday's game marked the 29th time Luck has thrown for more than 300 yards in a game and the first time he has done it in back-to-back games since 2015 (10/18-10/25). Luck also now has 28 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass which is the longest active streak in the NFL. He passed Peyton Manning for the second-longest streak in team history. Luck is now tied with Dave Krieg and Philips Rivers for the 11th-longest streak in NFL history.
— Najee Goode tallied six tackles (two solo), two special teams stops and registered his first career interception.
— Matthias Farley recorded six tackles (one solo), one interception and two passes defensed. It marks the third interception of his career and he set a single-game career high in passes defensed.
— Adam Vinatieri connected on 1-of-2 field goals attempts, including a 54-yard kick. He also made all three extra point attempts. With his first field goal attempt, he passed Morten Andersen (672) for the second-most field goal attempts in NFL history. Vinatieri's 54-yard field goal moved him past Andersen (40) for the sixth-most field goals made from 50-or-more yards in NFL history. Vinatieri is now 20 points away from breaking Andersen's record for the most points in NFL history.
The Colts traveled to New England to take on the Patriots on Thursday Night Football.