2021 NFL season, Week 15: What we learned from Colts' win over Patriots on Saturday night

Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 7-6-0
New England Patriots
2021 · 9-4-0

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  1. Someone told the Colts Saturday night mattered a whole lot. Indianapolis played the opening quarter as if it had been waiting a year or longer for this matchup, storming out of the gates to take a 14-0 lead. The Colts did it with more than just handing it to Jonathan Taylor; blocking Jake Bailey's punt and recovering it for a touchdown, then following that with two turnovers in the second and third quarters. The takeaways came as a product of a defense that was flying around the field, laying the wood on multiple Patriots ball-carriers to set the tone for the evening and intercepting Mac Jones twice on two excellent plays made by linebackers Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke. It's not as if the Patriots weren't prepared to play, but the Colts certainly were the team with a greater desire, and the lead they built came as a result of their greater intensity from the opening whistle. If the Colts approach every remaining game as they did Saturday night, they'll be an extremely tough out for anyone standing in their way and, if they make the playoffs, we can point to this game as the key moment in which they mounted their run.
  2. Jonathan Taylor is a bona fide star. We didn't learn this Saturday night, because he'd already proven it with his play in the last calendar year, but when the game reached the final two minutes, anyone who has watched these Colts knew there was exactly one way this game could end appropriately: with a Taylor home run to seal the win. Taylor responded coming out of the break with a gallop to victory, making two Patriots miss between the tackles before bursting out of the traffic into daylight (well, artificial light, since it was at night) and winning the race to the end zone. The 67-yard sprint made it a 170-yard night for the stud running back, who is joining the elites with the season he's having. He helped the Colts finish off a significant victory Saturday night.
  3. It took a while, but Mac Jones finally had a rookie's type of night. Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus schemed up an excellent game plan for the prime-time affair, focusing on shutting down the run and using his athletic linebackers to confuse Jones when he dropped back to pass. The two interceptions came as a result of this approach and swung the momentum significantly in favor of the Colts, who didn't quite turn the takeaways into touchdowns, but were able to still put points on the board via field goals. Indianapolis' defensive efforts proved their worth when Bill Belichick showed his hand by kicking a field goal while trailing by 13 points with less than nine minutes to go, telling the football world he'd rather take a chip shot than put a 13-point game in the hands of Jones, who struggled to get comfortable all night. Jones deserves credit for mounting a late comeback effort that included a strike to N'Keal Harry, but his mistakes and lack of composure earlier in the game ultimately doomed New England. For a rookie who has been stellar in his first season, a game like this was bound to happen eventually.
  4. Carson Wentz is still Carson Wentz. Wentz's passing line was unremarkable at best, finishing 5-of-12 for 57 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and nearly threw another INT to J.C. Jackson, who thankfully (for the Colts) had the would-be pick knocked out of his hands. Belichick's decision to kick a field goal in the fourth was built on both his lack of trust in Jones in a key spot, but also on his likely belief that Wentz would make another error in a crucial spot because the Colts quarterback hadn't shown evidence he'd do anything otherwise. After the pregame show spent time displaying how Frank Reich had been attempting to build Wentz's confidence in film sessions (revealed to the world via Hard Knocks: In Season), Wentz proved he still hadn't been built up enough to go win a prime-time game for the Colts. Instead, Taylor was there to rescue the Colts when they were teetering on the edge of a late collapse. Old habits tend to die hard.
  5. New England has been knocked off the horse; now they'll have to prove they can mount it again. The Patriots hadn't lost a game since they were 2-4 way back in October and it looked like they might not fall in a game the rest of the way if they could get past Indianapolis. The Colts had other plans by punching the Patriots in the mouth in the first quarter, and it wasn't until the fourth that New England recovered enough to get up off the mat and counter. By then, they'd run out of time and ability to get one more stop. The question now: Can New England bounce back? The Patriots of old would shake off this type of loss and get back to what they do best, but we're in new territory in 2021. New England is led by a rookie quarterback, didn't have its top running back available Saturday night, and could only lean on its defense so much in order to fight back and make it close. They have a rematch with the Bills next week, then two games they should win against Jacksonville and Miami. But the swagger they'd built on their seven-game winning streak has been hurt by this game. They're promising, but at this point, they're still unproven over the long haul. Now it's time to prove they're more than just a long winning streak.


NFL Research: Colts linebacker E.J. Speed is the first player with multiple punt block return touchdowns in a single season since Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed did so in 2003 with the Ravens. His first punt block return touchdown came in Week 10 against the Jaguars.


Next Gen Stat of the game: Jonathan Taylor carried the ball 18 times for 139 yards and one touchdown on rushes inside the tackles, averaging 7.7 yards per such attempt.


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