INDIANAPOLIS – In order for the Colts to push a winning streak from four to five games, they were going to have to win in an atmosphere that has proven difficult for many teams over the past 11 seasons.
The Colts played at Foxborough Sunday, a venue that has been rough on visiting team on an average of more than four out of five occasions for the past 11 seasons.
Indianapolis braved the elements and scored touchdowns on its first two drives, marches that covered 80 and 84 yards, and with an offensive cast that featured a number of rookie faces.
A veteran New England team countered with big plays to turn the game in its favor. The Patriots scored on a 68-yard punt return and on 59- and 87-yard interception returns to seize control of a game where both teams were striving to reach 7-3.
The Colts battled hard throughout the day, but turnovers and a finely-tuned Patriots offense made it a day that Indianapolis will have to deal with as it approaches the remaining six games.
"This loss doesn't define us," said linebacker Pat Angerer. "It doesn't define the people in the organization. It doesn't define who we are as players or coaches. All we can do is get better, learn from it and try to be the team we know we are."
The Colts had yielded only 33 points on takeaways through the first nine games, even though they held a minus-nine ratio in the area. New England tallied 21 points on takeaways, plus added the special teams play in padding its point total.
The Patriots scored eight touchdowns, five offensively, two defensively and one on the specialty units. Sunday's game marked the first time the Colts had surrendered three scores on returns in the same game since 1980. That game was on November 23 of that season and came in New England when the Patriots returned an interception and two fumbled kickoff returns in a 47-21 victory.
While every loss is a tough matter with which to deal, the club's four losses this year have tested the players' resolve.
Five turnovers spelled a 41-21 loss in Chicago in the opener. An 80-yard touchdown pass in the final minute in a 22-17 home loss to Jacksonville happened just seconds after Indianapolis rallied to take the lead. A 35-9 loss at the Jets was fueled by four turnovers and missed opportunities in the red zone.
At New England, Indianapolis had 448 net yards, but gave up 446. New England converted eight-of-12 third downs and had 10 plays that gained at least 15 yards.
There were things that made Colts players shake their heads.
"You try to do that (hit the mental and physical reset button) but no matter what when you lose, it kind of sinks in," said Angerer. "You deal with it, you learn from it and you get better. You try to flush it out as quickly as you can."
Though Indianapolis missed a chance to keep up with teams ahead of it in the AFC playoff chase, there remains opportunity ahead, namely Buffalo this Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts have bounced back three times from tough losses, and Angerer remains firm in his belief that the team has what it takes to do so again.
"Yes, absolutely. We have the right guys in the organization, the right guys on the field in order to get through this and improve," said Angerer. "This isn't the end of the world. This isn't the end of the team. This is not the last time people are going to hear from us.
"There still is a lot of football left. We all have to fix our mistakes. Personally, I made three mistakes out there today. We'll fix those and we'll get through this. We will continue to get better, improve and reach our goals."
NOTES – Andrew Luck threw for 334 yards at New England, setting a new NFL record with a fifth 300-yard game. He entered the contest tied with Peyton Manning (1998) for the rookie record.
T.Y. Hilton produced his third 100-plus game, the most by an NFL rookie receiver this year. Hilton was taken with the 92nd pick in the draft, and there were 12 receivers drafted ahead of him, including four in the first round. He had 14- and 43-yard scoring receptions at New England. Hilton joins John Mackey (1963), Preston Pearson (1968), Marshall Johnson (1975), Anthony Gonzalez (2007) and Austin Collie (2009) for the second-most rookie touchdown receptions in a game. Marvin Harrison (3 at Kansas 12/15/96) holds the club rookie records.
Reggie Wayne tied Cris Carter's NFL record with a 58th straight game with three or more receptions. He also posted his eighth 1,000-yard season, tying Harrison's club record and becoming the 13th NFL player to reach the plateau at least eight times.
INJURIES –Wide receiver Donnie Avery left the game with a concussion, while defensive end Cory Redding left with a hip injury. Cornerback Teddy Williams had a calf injury.