By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Somehow, some way, the Patriots made things interesting in the fourth quarter in Indy on Saturday night. When the scoreboard read 20-0 after another bad Mac Jones pick and a costly Patriots penalty, that didn’t seem possible.
But the Patriots did cut that Indy lead to 20-17, needing one more stop to try to get a chance to drive for a game-tying field goal or game-winning touchdown in the final minute. Alas, that opportunity didn’t come, as Jonathan Taylor — the NFL’s best running back this year — broke free for a 67-yard touchdown run, leading the Colts to a 27-17 win.
While the fourth quarter was strong for the Patriots, the first three quarters were not. As a result, the “Four Ups, Four Downs” installment this week will be a bit lopsided in favor of the Downs.
FOUR ONE UPS UP
The tight end was immense. He caught his eighth touchdown of the season early in the fourth quarter, and he set a new single-season career high with his ninth touchdown with 2:25 left to play.
He had six catches for 77 yards and the two touchdowns, also hauling in a critical third-and-4 heave from Jones on that first touchdown drive.
Hunter Henry was very good.
Honorable Mention: N’Keal Harry
He wasn’t a full “Up,” but N’Keal Harry came up with a huge 43-yard reception, helping to set up Henry’s second touchdown. He might have had a bigger night if Mac Jones had more time on a flea flicker where Harry was wide open.
FOUR A WHOLE LOT OF DOWNS
Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty
If you were to draw up a scenario where you need two Patriots defenders to fill a gap and make a run stuff, you’d probably pick these two. Alas, they were left in the dust by Jonathan Taylor on the 67-yard touchdown run that all but ended the game.
Here they are in dot form:
Jonathan Taylor reached a top speed of 22.13 mph on his 67-yard game-clinching TD run, the fastest speed by a ball-carrier this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 19, 2021
Here it is in a more traditional format:
JONATHAN TAYLOR. 67 YARDS. GOOD NIGHT.
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2021
That’s a rough one.
Rougher than that? Giving up a blocked punt. It just can’t happen. But the German fullback simply didn’t get a body on Matthew Adams, who somewhat easily flew into Jake Bailey’s space and blocked the Patriots’ punt in the first quarter. E.J. Speed (great name) pursued the ball and scored a touchdown, putting the Patriots in a 14-0 hole.
Here’s a good look at where that punt block came from. Jakob Johnson appeared to let his man through. pic.twitter.com/wEsyeSlqRv
— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) December 19, 2021
That was the third punt that the Patriots have had blocked this year, which is almost unfathomable.
Any time this happens …
Isaiah Wynn with the TFL 😤 pic.twitter.com/uPL0QHIzz1
— PFF (@PFF) December 19, 2021
… you land on the Downs.
Wynn also had a false start penalty, which came after a holding penalty on Jakobi Meyers, thus moving the Patriots back into a first-and-18 at the Colts’ 20-yard line. They did overcome that and score, but it didn’t help the cause.
The O-line had a tough day overall, committing three penalties and helping the duo of Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden to just 39 yards on 14 rushing attempts. (Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers helped supplement the run game with 28 rushing yards.)
He ended up having a decent night, and the second touchdown pass to Henry was sweet. But the picks were costly, and the first one was just awful.
DARIUS LEONARD PICK IN THE RED ZONE 🔒
Also that stiff arm 😳pic.twitter.com/CAs7VXeHes
— PFF (@PFF) December 19, 2021
“Yeah I just threw it right to him,” Jones lamented after the game. “I mean, that was a good play [by Leonard], but unacceptable. You can’t win until you stop from losing. And I mean, I handed the ball to the guy.”
It was Jones’ first multiple-interception game since Week 3 against the Saints. He also took a delay of game penalty on the Patriots’ first offensive drive before taking a 15-yard loss on a sack, contributing to the team facing a fourth-and-30.
Another massive special teams gaffe, Brandon King jumped offside on a Colts field goal attempt right after Jones’ second pick. That was significant because the kick was no good. Michael Badgley got a second chance, kicking from 41 yards instead of 46, and he hit it, stretching the Colts’ lead to 20-0.
At the time, it kind of looked like another mistake in what was shaping up to be a blowout loss. But by the game’s final minutes, it was looming large.
The Patriots committed eight penalties for 50 yards, and they were all detrimental to varying degrees. But Mike Onwenu’s false start on third-and-goal at the 2-yard line was mighty big.
The jump moved the ball back to the 7-yard line, and Jones threw incomplete on third down. That’s when Bill Belichick’s decision to kick a field goal to cut the lead to 20-10 with 9 minutes left was made.
Had Onwenu — who was in as the extra tackle in the goal line package — not jumped, the Patriots likely would have taken two cracks at the goal line. But that early start messed up that whole scenario.
QB Sneak Defense
Carson Wentz was … pretty bad in this one. He was 5-for-12 for 57 yards and a touchdown, and that TD came on one of those glorified handoffs. He also had a pick and missed a couple of open throws that could have changed the game.
BUT, he was excellent on the QB sneak.
He ran a QB sneak on fourth-and-1 near midfield early in the second quarter, and he got it.
He ran a QB sneak on another fourth-and-1, this time midway through the third quarter. He got it.
And he ran yet another QB sneak, on yet another fourth-and-1, this one with 5:38 left in the game and Indy leading by 10. He … got it.
That’s great for Wentz, but the Patriots are going to want to stop maybe one of those. A turnover on downs would’ve really helped negate the blocked punt and the picks from Jones. Alas.