FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots’ Week 9 matchup with the Colts is over. Let us never speak of it again.
New England and Indianapolis put on a thoroughly unattractive football display Sunday at Gillette Stadium, combining for 16 punts and just one offensive touchdown. The Patriots have real questions to answer about their offense as they head into their Week 10 bye, but they won’t complain about this result. They cruised to a 26-3 victory to win their second straight and improve to 5-4 on the season.
Here are three at-the-buzzer takeaways from Sunday’s game:
1. The Patriots dominated a terrible Colts offense
Two weeks ago, the Patriots delivered a shockingly bad defensive performance against a struggling Chicago Bears offense. They avoided the same fate Sunday.
Facing a Colts team that entered ranked 30th in points per game and 32nd in offensive DVOA and was without star running back Jonathan Taylor, the Patriots allowed just 121 yards of total offense. They smothered Indy’s shorthanded run game and quarterback Sam Ehlinger, sacking the inexperienced signal-caller nine times and forcing seven three-and-outs.
Three of those sacks came courtesy of third-year linebacker Josh Uche, who’s finally showing glimpses of a long-awaited potential breakout. The oft-hyped 2020 second-rounder has four sacks in his last two games after recording zero between Week 3 of last season and Week 7 of this season. Matthew Judon added three more Sunday, upping his NFL-leading season total to 11 1/2. He’s on pace to break Andre Tippett’s single-season franchise record of 18 1/2 and has played at an All-Pro level through nine games. Judon also drew a penalty that wiped out a third-down completion.
Ehlinger, who was making just his second career start and playing behind a woeful offensive line, finished with nearly as many sacks as completions (15 of 29, 103 yards, one interception), and the Colts did not notch their first non-penalty first down until more than halfway through the second quarter. The Patriots added a late defensive touchdown for good measure when Jonathan Jones picked off a tipped pass and returned it 16 yards to the house.
The Colts also went a putrid 0-for-14 on third down.
Just how good is this Patriots’ defense? We can’t yet answer that question. We’ve seen them struggle mightily against the Bears and Baltimore Ravens, and they’ve been fortunate to face several overmatched and/or undermanned offenses in recent weeks, and they’ll see another when they host the New York Jets after their Week 10 bye.
From there, the road gets much tougher. We’ll begin to find out what this group truly is made of after that Jets game, when the Patriots meet the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills in back-to-back Thursday night matchups.
2. It’s hard to feel great about the Patriots’ offense right now
Speaking of those future opponents, the Patriots will need more from their sputtering offense if they hope to keep pace with some of their more explosive second-half foes. They generated just one touchdown for the second consecutive week, and that came on a drive that began at the Colts’ 2-yard line.
Mac Jones halted his streak of consecutive games with an interception at seven, but he delivered an uninspiring overall passing performance, going 20-for-30 for 147 yards and one touchdown. Overthrows were a problem for the second-year quarterback, who missed long on two incompletions to Rhamondre Stevenson and one to Tyquan Thornton. He averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt and was sacked four times.
Issues along the offensive line again hamstrung New England, with new right tackle Yodny Cajuste struggling in pass protection and Isaiah Wynn decisively losing a lopsided matchup against Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Wynn, the Patriots’ starting right tackle for the first six games, replaced first-round rookie Cole Strange at left guard after two series and stayed there until midway through the fourth quarter, surrendering multiple interior pressures and at least one QB hit to Buckner. Strange, Wynn and Brown all were whistled for penalties, as well.
The Patriots should get starting center David Andrews (concussion) back after their bye, and that’ll go a long way toward stabilizing this unit. But they have some important questions to answer up front. Is the Wynn right tackle experiment officially over? What should the Patriots do with Strange — their top 2022 draft pick — now that he’s been benched in back-to-back games? Are they comfortable enough in Cajuste to keep him in the starting lineup? Would they consider shifting Mike Onwenu to right tackle, with Wynn potentially slotting in at right guard?
Elsewhere, the Patriots again got next to nothing from receivers not named Jakobi Meyers, with Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and elevated practice squadder Lynn Bowden combining for four catches on eight targets for 16 yards while starter DeVante Parker sat out with a knee injury. Meyers caught five passes on six targets for 42 yards and lost a fumble.
New England’s only two 20-plus-yard gains came courtesy of tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, who had a 24-yard catch-and-run off a well-executed screen pass and a 30-yarder up the seam, respectively. Rhamondre Stevenson rushed 15 times for 60 yards and caught three of his seven targets for 10 yards and the Patriots’ lone touchdown. The newly promoted J.J. Taylor complemented Stevenson with Damien Harris (illness) unavailable, finishing with just 9 yards on 10 carries but making a great hustle play to recover a Bourne fumble.
x. Patriots’ special teams get their revenge
The Patriots spoke this week about how the Colts “dominated” them in the kicking game when these teams met last season. Indianapolis returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in that game en route to a 27-17 win.
New England flipped that script in Sunday’s rematch. The Patriots got a 23-yard punt return and a 32-yard kickoff return from Marcus Jones, four field goals from Nick Folk and, poetically, a blocked punt by Jonathan Jones, which Brenden Schooler recovered just shy of Indy’s goal line to set to Stevenson’s second-quarter touchdown reception.
Folk, last week’s AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, is a perfect 9-for-9 on field-goal attempts over the last two games, singlehandedly outscoring the rest of the Patriots’ offense during that span. Colts kicker Chase McLaughlin, meanwhile, shanked a 39-yard field goal, tilting the scales further toward New England.
The only knock against the Patriots here was more wonky punting from Jake Bailey, including a puzzling fourth-quarter shank that traveled just 7 yards.