FOXBOROUGH — You should have taken the points. And many Patriots fans, audibly angry with their team giving up most of a 31-3 lead, clearly did not.
The Patriots’ defense was booed off the field following Pierre Garcon’s touchdown with 36 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter that made the score 31-24 in favor of the home team. New England had done enough to wrap up the victory in the game’s middle 30 minutes, but the home crowd was unhappy with how they finished up the final fifteen. The Patriots gave up the final 21 points of the game to turn a blowout into something different.
Patriots players were upset with how the game ended. Vince Wilfork, who seemed to be everywhere in the first half, left without speaking to reporters.
“It’s a mindset,” said defensive end Andre Carter, who has become the face of the team’s nascent pass rush. “It’s just knowing what you have to do and just trying to go out there and execute. Unfortunately toward the end, toward the final stretch of the game, Indy was just able to make big plays, and that’s something we’ve got to eliminate.”
The Patriots were only able to eliminate one of Indy’s final four drives, with the other three resulting in Colts touchdowns. The first drive ate up 8:49 of the third and fourth quarters, 15 plays finally culminating in a five-yard touchdown run by Donald Brown. The Patriots went three-and-out on two straight possessions, and the Colts elicited groans in sports books across Vegas with Dan Orlovsky’s 33-yard bomb to Pierre Garcon that cut the lead to 31-17. The Colts needed just five plays to go 90 yards for Garcon’s second touchdown.
“We’ve obviously got to do a better job of finishing off the game,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “We’ll work on that.”
Said linebacker Jerod Mayo, “It’s kind of disappointing, to be honest with you. Even though it’s a win, you just want to win games in the National Football League, it’s just so disappointing to finish like that, man.”
Finishing games extends to the offense as well. The Patriots failed to score on all three of their drives in the fourth quarter (not counting the kneel-down to end the game), leaving an opening for the Colts to get the ball back and cut into the lead. The Patriots failed to record a first down in the fourth quarter and had just 11 total yards of offense, all on the ground.
“We’ve just got to finish better,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski. “We’ve got to practice hard this week, make sure we execute well at the beginning of games and at the end of the games.”
Deion Branch recovered an onsides kick that could have given the ball back to the Colts, and the Patriots were able to finish off the game with a win. How much of today’s finish can be chalked up to a lack of focus during garbage time, and how much of it is a serious concern, will be seen going forward.