FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP)
Patient and poised, first-time starter Dan Orlovsky led the Indianapolis Colts within a yard of taking a lead on the New England Patriots.
The surprises pretty much ended right there at the New England 1-yard line early in the second quarter. A penalty and a sack quickly turned the touchdown opportunity into a field goal, and then the Colts' troubles really began.
The Patriots (9-3) scored two touchdowns in the last 2:57 of the first half, then piled on two more in the third quarter before the winless Colts rallied too late in a 31-24 loss Sunday.
''Guys played well and did some things well, but you're still measured by wins,'' Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell said.
Orlovsky is the latest quarterback called upon by the Colts as starter Peyton Manning continues his recovery from neck surgery. He completed 30 of 37 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns, but the Colts couldn't overcome New England's surge of 28 straight points.
Manning was on the sideline once again, offering any help he could as he hoped to see his teammates rally without him. The Colts did make it interesting in the fourth when Donald Brown ran for a 5-yard touchdown, and Orlovsky and Pierre Garcon connected for a pair of touchdowns.
|Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning talks to Dan Orlovsky in the first half at Gillette Stadium on December 4,2011 in Foxboro, Mass. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)|
That gave Indianapolis a glimmer of hope before Deion Branch recovered the onside kick for New England with 34 seconds left.
''There were a lot of positives at the end of the game, but we should have played like that the entire game,'' said Garcon, who finished with nine catches for 150 yards.
Manning said he expects to increase his physical rehabilitation this week with more throwing, but is still uncertain whether he will be on the field at all this season.
''You just can't help quite as much when you're not playing. It's been a new role for me. I don't think I'm doing very good because we haven't won any games. But I try to help and just try to be there as a resource for the guys,'' Manning said. ''Being 0-12 is frustrating for everybody in our building. It's disappointing. I hate everything about it.''
The Patriots have won four in a row. Indianapolis must beat Baltimore, Tennessee, Houston or Jacksonville to avoid becoming the second NFL team to go 0-16.
The Patriots entered as three-touchdown favorites with the teams, from different divisions, meeting for the ninth straight season.
With two touchdown passes, both to Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady overtook Johnny Unitas and tied Warren Moon for sixth place in NFL history with 291 during the regular season. Brady completed 29 of 38 for 293 yards.
Caldwell gave Orlovsky his first start of the season in place of the ineffective Curtis Painter. While Orlovsky played well, 240 of his passing yards came in the fourth quarter and in the end he could not lead the Colts to their first win of the season.
''My goal is to go out there and win a ballgame - bar none,'' Orlovsky said. ''The best chance for us to do that is to play well at this position. I just didn't play good enough to win today.''
The Colts tied it at 3 on Adam Vinatieri's 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter. And the Patriots punted on their next series.
Then Brady got the offense rolling as New England scored touchdowns on its next four possessions, taking a 31-3 lead late in the third quarter.
The Colts had a new defensive coordinator, linebackers coach Mike Murphy, after Larry Coyer was fired Tuesday.
But the Patriots rarely lose in December, no matter their opponent. They're 38-5 in that month starting in 2001, tops in the NFL. And they're 19-1 at home in December, with wins in their last 18 games, since Gillette Stadium opened in December 2002.
Gronkowski has 13 touchdown catches, tying San Diego's Antonio Gates in 2004 and San Francisco's Vernon Davis in 2009 for most by a tight end in a regular season. He originally was given another touchdown catch, but that was changed to a lateral on which he ran 2 yards for the 31-3 lead.
Thinking he had set the record, Gronkowski held onto the ball as a souvenir instead of spiking it as he usually does. He even accepted congratulations from his teammates on the bench.
Trailing 3-0, Orlovsky led a 19-play drive lasting 10:19. The Colts had first-and-goal at the 1, but a run for no gain, an incompletion, a false-start penalty and a sack forced them to settle for Vinatieri's field goal.
New England finally took command by scoring twice in the last three minutes of the first half on Brady's 11-yard pass to Gronkowski and BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 1-yard run for a 17-3 lead.
The Patriots got the ball to start the third quarter and Brady passed on each of the seven plays, completing all of them to drive 77 yards, ending with a 21-yard touchdown to Gronkowski. After Kyle Arrington recovered Delone Carter's fumble on the next series, Gronkowski scored again when he went in motion, took a pitch from Brady and ran untouched into the right side of the end zone.
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