For three quarters Sunday, the Patriots dominated the Colts. Then they held on for a 31-24 victory, their fourth straight win, running their record to 9-3, tied for the best record in the AFC (with the Texans, Ravens and Steelers) and two games clear of the Jets in the AFC East.
This New England-Indianapolis get-together was unlike the previous versions because the Colts future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, was on the sidelines -- where's he's been all season -- with a neck injury. These matchups had become one of the best rivalries in the league but the suspense was lacking this time around. It happens when two teams are going in opposite directions, and that includes Indy's winless streak, which reached 12 games Sunday.
It's been a month since the Patriots lost back-to-back contests to the Steelers and Giants. And now, as happens almost every season, New England looks like one of the league's best teams and they're led by quarterback Tom Brady. But unlike prior iterations, this club is still lacking an identity on defense. There's no way the likes of Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi would've allowed a hapless 0-11 outfit to score 21 fourth-quarter points. But that's exactly what the Colts and Dan Orlovsky did Sunday. And that development made Pats linebacker Jerod Mayo very unhappy.
"We started off strong, but we didn’t finish well," he said. "We have to learn to put two halves together. … Our mindset is to keep them out [of the end zone] in the red zone. Now we just have to keep them out the rest of the field."
Also not happy with their performance: Chad Ochocinco. The Pats released wide receiver Taylor Price Saturday, which made Ochocinco the de facto No. 3 WR a week after he was a healthy scratch against the Eagles. He again struggled in limited playing time and didn't sniff the field in the second half. When it was over, Ochocinco had a lone catch for 12 yards.
The Foxboro crowd, still waiting for Chad to play like he did in Cincinnati, booed him after a second-quarter drop. For the year, Ochocinco has 12 catches for 213 yards, which is also known as "a pretty good game for Wes Welker."
On the other side of the ball, both Adam Vinatieri, the former Pats kicker, and Manning both had good experiences with the New England crowd.
"People were very nice after the fact," Vinatieri said via ESPNBoston.com. "Obviously there is a lot of gamesmanship out there at that point, so I expect all that stuff. As I was leaving the field, there were some nice comments too, so it's cool. They were good to me."
Manning echoed similar sentiments.
"I've done it every place. I've kind of used this year for a couple things that I've never been able to do -- one of them is to sign a lot of autographs before the game on the road and at home in Indy. It's good, interaction with the fans," Manning said after the Patriots' 31-24 win.
"Arguably being our biggest rival, the fans here couldn't have been nicer. Many of them told me, 'Hope you get back soon' and 'Sorry you're not out there playing today.' Certainly you enjoy hearing that from your own fans, and I know how sincere they are. Then from the biggest rival fans, some of the same fans when I'm playing I'm sure I've heard them through the years making it tough on the opposing quarterback, it's very classy. I was appreciative of it."
The takeaway: maybe Ochocinco would be more popular if he just visited Foxboro.