INDIANAPOLIS –The exhilaration of a Wild Card victory last Saturday was matched with abject disappointment in New England as the Colts fell to the Patriots in the Divisional Playoffs, 43-22.
The Patriots had the first of four interceptions of Andrew Luck and the first of six rushing scores before two minutes elapsed, and they never trailed the entire evening.
New England took two 14-point leads and withstood a Colts rally that cut the deficit to 29-22 late in the third quarter, but LeGarrette Blount's 73-yard scoring run just seconds later highlighted a ground assault that totaled 234 yards.
"I told them, 'Hold your head high,' " said Chuck Pagano to Colts Radio. "We're very proud of what this team did. They overcame injuries, circumstance, adversity, whatever you want to say.
"A lot of teams in the middle of the season going what we went through wouldn't have done what this team did. I'm very proud of this team and our coaching staff. They did a tremendous job."
Indianapolis endured crippling injury losses and used a league-high 73 players this season in finishing 12-6, winning the AFC South and reaching the divisional round, but the emotion of the moment means perspective will come in time.
"Turnovers are indicative of sort of how the game went for us, for me really," said Andrew Luck, who hit 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. "We just couldn't overcome it. It stinks."
New England turned four Colts miscues into 14 points. Six Patriots ventures into the Indianapolis red zone produced five touchdowns, while the Colts could only score two field goals after reaching the Patriots' red zone.
Luck was able to connect with LaVon Brazill on 38- and 35-yard scoring passes that trimmed New England's lead to 14-7 and 29-22, but the Colts could get no closer after Brazill's second score.
"We had our opportunities," said Luck. "We just couldn't get over that hump. (We had) some big plays, but they weren't enough, which is unfortunate and disappointing. We had our chances."
It was the Patriots who capitalized on opportunity. Blount scored on rushes of two, two, two and 73 yards, while Stevan Ridley had two short scoring runs.
The six rushing scores tied the second-most ever accomplished in a playoff game, matching San Francisco's output in the divisional round in 1993. The most ever was seven rushing scores by Chicago in 1940.
Indianapolis had been 6-3 this season when allowing 140-plus yards, but the season ended with four-of-six teams amassing more than 150. Kansas City had 150 last Saturday.
"Everyone on the defensive side of the football, obviously it's not the level of play that any of those guys and our coaches expects," said Pagano. "We have to play better. We'll go to work on fixing things."
After directing the Colts to five second-half touchdowns in beating the Chiefs, Luck found the New England defense playing at a different level.
"They do a good job of disrupting timing and rhythm and getting hands on guys," said Luck. "(They had a) good, relentless pass rush. I thought our o-line did a great job this game, giving (me) time to get balls out. They do a good job of disrupting things, to encapsulate it in one sentence."
Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of the hiring of Ryan Grigson as general manager. Pagano came on board two weeks later, and Indianapolis produced consecutive 11-win seasons that landed playoff berths.
Though this year's post-season venture went one round further than last year, falling short of reaching the next round brings disappointment.
"We took another step forward," said Pagano. "We're going to go back to work. We're going to keep building.
"We're building a program for sustained success. We made another step in the right direction. Certainly we didn't want the season to end like it did, but I'm very proud of the guys."
COLTS NOTES – Adam Vinatieri played in his 27th career playoff game, tying D.D. Lewis for second-most in history (29, Jerry Rice)…Vinatieri pushed his career playoff point total to 213, while he now has nailed 51 playoff field goals and has scored in 27 straight playoff games – all extending his NFL records…the Colts now are 6-9 in divisional playoff action…after seven turnover-free games during the regular season, Indianapolis had four giveaways in each playoff game and finished with a minus-seven turnover ratio (1:8)…in allowing 87 points in two playoff games, the Colts saw 31 of those (35.6 percent) come off turnovers…the Colts produced 14 playoff points off turnovers and the minus-17 differential was in stark contrast to being plus-47 in the category during the regular season…LaVon Brazill joined T.Y. Hilton in having two TD receptions in playoff games this year, and they joined Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Reggie Wayne as the only Colts ever to do so…Robert Mathis had a strip-sack in a second straight playoff game and with 18 career playoff games, he is tied with Justin Snow and Wayne for third-most in franchise history behind Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday (19).