The New England Patriots saw their seven-game winning streak snapped on Saturday night when they fell to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, 27-17. It wasn't a strong start for Bill Belichick's club as they were shut out through the first three quarters, but were able to cut the Indy lead to as little as three points after going on a 17-0 run in the midst of the fourth quarter. Just as the tides seemed to be shifting in the direction of the Patriots, however, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor ripped off a back-breaking 67-yard touchdown that effectively eliminated any shot of a comeback for the Patriots.
That loss drops them to 9-5 on the season and are no longer the top seed in the AFC. That said, they are still in possession of first place in the AFC East and will have a pivotal game against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Before we fully turn our attention to that game, however, let's take a quick look back at this loss to the Colts and take stock at where several Patriots are trending coming out of the matchup.
Stock up: Hunter Henry
Hunter Henry was one of the key reasons why the Patriots were able to stay in this game for as long as they did. As he's proven to be for the bulk of the season, the tight end was a key outlet for Mac Jones throughout the evening, particularly when New England was in spitting distance of the end zone. Henry caught six of his eight targets for a team-high 77 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. Those two touchdowns bring Henry's season total to nine, which is a new career-high.
Henry's second touchdown was one of Mac Jones' best throws of the night and did show how much of a rapport the two have developed in such a short time. With pressure breathing down on him, Jones threw into traffic and was able to zip the ball just in front of a Colts defender and hit Henry, who was sliding slightly to his right for the score.
A big TD for @Hunter_Henry84!— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 19, 2021
📺: @nflnetwork / Patriots app pic.twitter.com/q02BVdtppo
Stock down: Special teams unit
One of the biggest issues on the night for New England was the special teams unit. They had systematic collapses throughout the contest and directly led to points going on the board for the opposition. The first miscue came on the Patriots second offensive possession of the game. Jake Bailey was set to punt the ball deep in his own territory and fullback Jakob Johnson failed to block his defender, who then had a clean line to pull off the block. Indy's E.J. Speed then picked up the loose ball for the touchdown to go up 14-0 right before the end of the first quarter.
BLOCKED PUNT!— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 19, 2021
📺: @NFLNetwork pic.twitter.com/xyE3THQj9h
Another major mistake by the Patriots specials teams unit came in the second half. The Colts were lining up for a 46-yard field goal on their first possession of the third quarter and Michael Badgley's kick was wide right, which would have kept the Indy lead at 17. However, Patriots special teamer Brandon King was called for offsides, which not only gave Badgley another shot at the kick, but moved him five yards closer. He then made the second attempt to give the Colts a 20-0 lead.
Stock up: N'Keal Harry
N'Keal Harry's tenure in New England hasn't lived up to the first-round billing by any stretch of the imagination, but the wide receiver did turn in arguably his best play in a Patriots uniform. On a third-and-6 play at the 2:50 mark of the fourth quarter and the Patriots down by 10, Mac Jones uncorked a 43-yard pass to Harry, who was able to leap over his defender to make the catch. That grab -- along with the roughing the passer penalty also enforced on the play -- moved the Patriots inside the 10-yard line of the Colts and eventually helped them get within a field goal.
N’Keal Harry got 🆙 pic.twitter.com/ixkbUmPWwF— PFF (@PFF) December 19, 2021
Harry was also wide open for what would have been an easy touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots flea-flicker was too slow to develop for Jones to find him.
Here's what happened downfield with N'Keal Harry.— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) December 19, 2021
Important to keep in mind: Mac Jones didn't have any time to see this because of how slowly that flea flicker came together. pic.twitter.com/s9r9x8Qj7J
Those were the types of plays that the Patriots were hoping to see with more regularity when they drafted Harry back in 2019. While it's hard to expect this to be the key turning point for him going forward, this is a nice flash of what could still be untapped potential for the young receiver.
Stock down: Isaiah Wynn
It was not a good day at the office for left tackle Isaiah Wynn. He struggled in pass protection and couldn't contain DeForest Buckner whenever the Colts pass rusher lined up on top of him. In all, Wynn allowed four pressures on the night, including a sack on Mac Jones. He also didn't contribute positively in the running game either. In fact, he was responsible for a loss of yardage after he ran into Rhamondre Stevenson.
Isaiah Wynn made ... a choice pic.twitter.com/MLI5E1JDzU— Christian D'Andrea, 2021 PAC champion (@TrainIsland) December 19, 2021
Wynn was also penalized for a false start in the closing minute of the third quarter.
Stock up: Mac Jones
This was not the best game for Mac Jones. As Julian Edelman put it on social media in the midst of the game on Saturday night, the No. 15 overall pick was dealing with "rookie pains." The Patriots could not get much of anything going offensively through the first three quarters and Jones was noticeably rattled at times to begin this game. New England was called for a delay of game penalty on their opening possession because Jones wasn't looking at the clocking ticking down, and Alabama product threw an interception when the Patriots were inside the red zone right before halftime.
On a micro-level, this was one of the worst games we've seen from Jones this season. So why is his stock trending up? I was impressed with the way Jones was able to shake off those early struggles and help the Patriots claw back in this game with a 17-0 run in the fourth quarter. One of the big questions we've had about Jones is whether or not he has the ability to throw his team back into a game. While he wasn't able to fully complete the comeback, I give him credit for coming close. That is the type of character-building game that is needed for the developing rookie and he showed promise in a hostile environment.
Stock down: Run defense
New England's inability to stop the running game was a concern going into this game and those fears were realized pretty early in this game. On their second offensive possession of the game, the Colts almost exclusively leaned on the running game to go up 7-0 and proceeded to have their way with the Patriots on the ground. For the first half, Indy had already piled up 122 yards rushing as a team and that only continued in the second half. Of their 275 yards of total offense for the game, 226 were on the ground as the Colts moved on 5.8 yards per carry clip. The back-breaker came in the fourth quarter when Jonathan Taylor ripped off that 67-yard touchdown run that basically took a comeback off the board for the Patriots.
This has been a key weakness for the Patriots for the bulk of the season and could prove to be a fatal flaw in the postseason if they don't get it corrected quickly.
Stock down: Bill Belichick
When any team comes out as sluggish as the Patriots did to begin this game -- particularly after the bye week -- you have to place blame at the top. New England's first-half possessions against the Colts on Saturday went as followed: punt blocked punt returned for a touchdown, punt, interception. For the first time since 2016, the Patriots were shut out in the first half and it was an overall uncharacteristic performance by Belichick's club. They committed eight penalties for 50 yards, broke down on special teams and the running game was essentially a non-factor throughout the game.
There were also some questionable decisions by Belichick in this game, including his call to kick a field goal from the Indianapolis 7-yard line with his team down by 13 and just under nine minutes to play. While simply taking the points is one way to go, the Patriots still would need two possessions to either take the lead or tie the game. Had Belichick gone for it and been successful, a touchdown -- which they later got -- would have given them the lead.
The decision is admittedly debatable, but with the way the Colts were able to run the football throughout the game, they seemed to have a ball-control advantage that would have made it tough to squeak in two more possessions following the field goal.