FOXBORO, Mass. — The mood was strange inside the Patriots' locker room after Sunday's 31-24 victory against the Colts. They were obviously happy to leave the building with their ninth win of the season, but they were definitely annoyed with the way things unfolded in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots had a 31-3 lead with less than 11 minutes remaining in the game, and head coach Bill Belichick was beginning to remove his starters. But after the prevent defense allowed the Colts to fly down the field with extreme ease, and the second-string offense couldn't run out the clock, the laugher turned into a white-knuckled nail-biter.
Fourth-string quarterback Dan Orlovsky led the Colts to three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter — of 86, 93 and 90 yards — and set up the Colts for an onside kick with 36 seconds remaining. It took an impressive catch and crouch from Deion Branch to get possession and seal the win.
"We've got to close out and finish games," safety James Ihedigbo said. "That's the bottom line."
The Patriots did not receive a Victory Monday from head coach Bill Belichick, which seems to be rare at this point in the season, and they'll have to report to Gillette for a day's worth of meetings and film sessions. This was likely because of the way the Patriots limped down the stretch in the final quarter.
For a while, it looked like the Colts were just another one of the Patriots' opponents to pad their stats during garbage time — Belichick even pulled Tom Brady for Brian Hoyer, which truly only happens when he believes the win is in the bag — but the Colts didn't stop fighting and nearly pulled off one of the wildest comebacks of the season.
Consider the improbability, too. The Colts' two scoring drives in the first three quarters spanned a total of 19:08, and they showed no life of creating big offensive plays that were necessary to put a scare into the Patriots.
And then, the Colts' final three touchdown drives amassed 269 of their 437 total yards (61.6 percent). What's more, the Colts didn't accumulate 269 yards from scrimmage in five full games this season.
"We're not happy with how we finished the game," captain Matthew Slater said. "We've got to finish games better, especially down the stretch. It's in all three phases, not just defensively. We're not happy about that. Of course, we have some work to do."
And obviously, it's going to start Monday when Belichick preaches that message.
"We've been harping on that from Week 1, finishing out games and finishing the way we want to," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "Obviously, that wasn't the right way to finish, so we've got to continue to work to finish out games."
Right guard Brian Waters said it was important not to mistake the sullen vibe for a team that felt like it just lost a game. He noted that no victory should be taken for granted, but he also knew Belichick would have plenty of material while riding his players through the upcoming week of preparation.
"We're probably going to hear it a lot more this week," Waters said. "We definitely didn't finish the way we wanted to finish, and I'm sure that's something that's going to be really emphasized this week. I haven't been here a long time, but I know long enough to realize when certain things will be a point of emphasis."