Erik Walden used an adjective beginning with the letter “g” to describe the Indianapolis Colts’ underwhelming defensive effort in a 42-20 whipping administered by the New England Patriots Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Great? Uh, no. Look at that score again.
Good? Still not even remotely close.
Gashed? Well, you’re getting warm.
“That was gross what we did tonight,” the outside linebacker said of the defense.
An unknown running back named Jonas Gray ran for four touchdowns and a career-high 199 of the Patriots’ 244 yards rushing in a primetime beatdown that won’t soon be forgotten in Indianapolis.
Colts fans arrived with hopes of seeing their team pull even with the rival Patriots in the AFC race for the No. 1 playoff seed. The home team instead got obliterated as New England took apart the NFL’s ninth-ranked rush defense with an old-fashioned brand of smashmouth football.
Sure, Tom Brady threw a couple of touchdown passes, too, but make no mistake. This was ground and pound and the Colts couldn’t stop it even when they knew what was coming.
“It’s all on us,” Walden said. “I’m singling out the defense, me included, start with me and then the rest of the defense.”
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois echoed the frustration.
“We’ll remember this feeling,” he said. “Just remember how they beat us.”
Seriously, how could anyone forget? In terms of primetime competitiveness, with all the hype surrounding Brady and Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski, among others, this qualified as a Sunday Night Football embarrassment that will stick in the minds of many.
“Tough pill to swallow, man,” said cornerback Darius Butler, who played his first two seasons with New England. “We’re better than what we put on the field tonight. They ran the ball on us. We’ve got to do a better job of playing the run, stopping the run at this point of the year and we didn’t do that.
“A team like that, they’re going to run the ball until you stop it. We didn’t stop it as a unit and we didn’t get off the field on third down.”
The Patriots converted 9-of-12 third downs (75 percent) against the NFL’s No. 1 defense in preventing such conversions.
And Gray, a first-year back out of Notre Dame, enjoyed a night he won’t soon forget. By the end of his fourth career NFL game, he had everyone not connected to New England asking just who in hell was this guy? For starters, he spent the past two seasons on practice squads in Baltimore and Miami.
Doesn’t that make the Colts and their fans cringe even more?
“He's a smart, hard-working kid, runs hard, has good power,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Gray. “In passing camp, you're not going to walk off the field oohing and aahing about him, but that's not his game. His game is what he showed tonight.”
The plan couldn’t have been more basic. The Patriots took a 14-3 lead on Gray’s first two touchdown runs of four and two yards. The only reason the Colts were down 14-10 at halftime was because Brady threw a couple of interceptions, the latter setting up a Luck touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks.
New England stuck with the ground game. Gray scored twice more on power runs from the two and the one. Brady threw a 2-yard TD pass to tight end Tim Wright, then a 26-yarder to tight end Rob Gronkowski to finish the scoring.
“We had a good game plan going in,” Gray said. “They hammered into us all week the keys to winning the game, and one of them was getting the running game going. We were able to do that early and often and guys did a good job blocking up front.”
Added Jean Francois, “He got the best of us, on our mistakes here and there and missed tackles.”
The Colts’ league-leading offense tied its season low with just 20 points. Luck completed 23-of-39 passes for 303 yards with two TDs and one interception. He was sacked only once, on a scramble for no gain.
Not that it mattered, but Luck extended his franchise record of consecutive games passing for 300-plus yards to eight.
What did matter was the Colts ran 17 times for just 19 yards.
“We knew we had to run it and stop it, and we did neither,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
Just like that, the Colts (6-4) have been relegated to chasing down a No. 2 playoff seed if others stumble. Don’t expect New England (8-2), which has now won six consecutive games, to be caught by these guys.
“We will see this team again,” Jean Francois said of a possible rematch. “We will remember this feeling.”
Problem is, as Walden observed, this loss resembled the last time these two teams met in the playoffs, when New England prevailed 43-22 last January in an AFC Divisional playoff game at Foxborough, Mass.
“It was kind of like a flashback to the playoff game,” Walden said.
And that one qualified as “gross,” too.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.