Judging by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's tone at the postgame news conference, he wasn't too happy with his team's performance in the fourth quarter against the Colts. Why should he be? For that matter, why should anyone?
Yes, they gave up just three points until the fourth quarter, which would then qualify said fourth quarter as "garbage time." But by the time the game had ended, you could have sworn Peyton Manning was the one commandeering the fourth quarter comeback and not Dan Orlovsky.
And on that note, Orlovsky, who has never had over a 100 passer rating in his career, torched the Patriots defense on Sunday to the tune of a 113.2 rating, completing 30 of his 37 attempts. I'm not very good at math, but by my calculations, that's seven incompletions for the entire game.
He's far from the first quarterback to torch this defense, but he might just be the worst quarterback to do so. That being said, most of his production came with the game well out of reach. It was enough, though, to once again leave us with many questions about the defense.
The biggest question: What can be gleaned from this defensive performance?
The answer: Not a lot, if anything at all.
There are still serious doubts about this defense after a near-meltdown in the fourth quarter, but that would have been the case even if the Patriots had held the Colts to three points for the entire game. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots continue to face some of the league's worst offenses. It's been that way for the past few weeks, and it will continue down the stretch with no great opponents in sight until January.
The critics will be critical until the Patriots defense gets it done against good competition, regardless of whether they get it done against inferior competition. That's the way it is, and that's the way it should be.
Ultimately, we learned nothing — good or bad — about this defense against the Colts. We knew before Sunday, and still know now, that the offense is going to have to carry the load in January. There is no magic "elite defense switch" that this group can flip to get where it wants to go. Likewise, the Patriots won't get bad quarterbacks like Tyler Palko or Vince Young in the playoffs.
While Sunday's performance did nothing to inspire confidence in the Patriots' defense, it did nothing to change the fact that come January, the Patriots have as good a chance as anyone.
Every team in the AFC has shown its flaws. The Ravens have had a hard time stringing together two wins against quality opponents all season. The Texans are on their third quarterback, T.J. Yates (so maybe the Patriots will get a bad quarterback in January). Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer is as likely to turn in a good performance (two games over 100 passer rating) as a complete dud (four games below 80), and their defense is almost as shaky as New England's.
The Steelers look like New England's biggest threat, but won by just eight points at home while clearly outplaying the Patriots, and it would have been just six points were it not for a fluky safety in the closing minutes.
Put it this way: The Patriots have as good a chance as anyone in January. They still have Belichick as their coach and Tom Brady as their quarterback. While that formula hasn't been successful for them in their past three trips to the playoffs, it at least puts them in the mix for a run in 2011.