INDIANAPOLIS – Getting off to fast starts on the road has been an emphasis point all season long for the Indianapolis Colts, but it was a 61-second span early in the second quarter that changed the climate of the game on Sunday, a 59-24 loss at New England.
After scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions, Indianapolis was victimized by a punt and interception return for a touchdown that gave New England a 21-14 lead it would not relinquish.
The Colts offense was forced to punt on its third series, but a false start penalty negated a booming punt by Pat McAfee.
On the ensuing punt, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman fielded the McAfee punt with plenty of room to work with and took advantage of it. Edelman sped down the right sideline and outran the Colts punt coverage unit for a 68-yard touchdown return.
With the game tied at 14, the Patriots wasted little time creating another non-offensive touchdown.
Two plays following the punt return, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's pass attempt sailed over Reggie Wayne and into the arms of Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. The newly-signed Talib took the interception, reversed to the other side of the field and ran 58 yards for a touchdown.
Both scoring plays happened within sixty-one seconds on the game clock.
New England led 21-14 after the Talib interception, and mistakes continued to mar the Colts the rest of the way.
The Patriots got 21 points off Colts turnovers, that that did not include Edelman's long scoring return. The Colts knew in order to continue their four-game winning streak, protecting the football was of importance.
"Turnovers, that was the key going into the game," Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said to Colts Radio. "If we turned the ball over, we were going to lose. We turned the ball over and we lost."
Following the Talib interception, the Colts did answer with a 47-yard field goal from kicker Adam Vinatieri and went into halftime down 24-17.
Looking for a defensive stop to begin the second half, the Colts defense could not corral Edelman on a third-and-11 screen pass, and that would prove costly. Edelman finished off the opening drive of the third quarter with a two-yard touchdown reception to push the lead to 31-17.
"You take something away from every game but this game…it hurt us," Hilton said. "We were in a great position to win the game, and we came out in the second half kind of flat. Against a great team you have to come out and play strong."
Maintaining that strong start was the problem on Sunday as the Colts could not keep up the pace of their first two scoring drives.
Indianapolis put together a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and a 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to start the game, but was plagued the rest of the way by a minus-four effort in the turnover department.
"That was it in a nutshell," interim head coach Bruce Arians said of the turnovers to Colts Radio. "Between the punt returns and poor tackling on the returns, we shot ourselves with (giving up) 21 points. You can't give this team 21 points and expect to win."
New England came into Sunday's game leading the league with a plus-16 cushion in the turnover department and showed why all game long.
It was that 61-second sequence early in the second quarter that turned a potential shootout into a game where the Colts would be playing from behind for nearly three quarters.
While Arians said his staff will dissect this tape on Monday, he wanted to let his team know that the long-term goal of playing into January will not change.
"We are a resilient bunch. We're 6-4. We still control our own destiny," Arians said. "We got a home game this weekend and we need that 12th Man out there strong as ever, and we'll play as good football as we can."