FOXBORO -- He looked invincible at the start, Andrew Luck did. He led the Colts on scoring drives of 80 and 84 yards the first two times Indianapolis had the ball -- burning New England's newest secondary hopeful, Aqib Talib, twice during the second -- and it seemed Luck would be a worthy successor to Peyton Manning in a suddenly rejuvenated PatriotsColts rivalry.
Then he reminded us that he's a rookie after all.
He threw not one, but two pick-sixes (and three interceptions overall) to a Patriot secondary that has spent the season making stars of the Russell Wilsons and Kevin Kolbs of the world. He botched the time management of a late first-half drive, forcing the Colts to settle for an impossible Adam Vinatieri 58-yard field-goal attempt when they still only trailed by seven. He was strip-sacked by Rob Ninkovich in the third quarter, a turnover that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski turned into a touchdown just six second later.
Game summary and statistics
Luck's numbers in the end were decent (27-of-50, 334 yards, 2 touchdowns) as he recorded his fifth 300-yard game of the season, the most for a rookie in NFL history. But that many mistakes -- even against a defense as soft as New England's -- usually spells disaster and it did Sunday, as the Patriots pulled away to an easy 59-24 victory at Gillette Stadium.
The victory may prove to be Pyrrhic, if Rob Gronkowski (who, according to sources, suffered a broken forearm) is sidelined for any length of time. But prior to Gronk's injury it was, in the words of Tom Brady, a "fun day".
Julian Edelman (69-yard punt return, 2-yard pass from Brady) and Gronkowski (passes of 4 and 24 yards from Brady) each scored a pair of touchdowns for New England. The Pats also got interception returns for TDs of 59 yards from Talib -- more than making up for his miscues on the second drive -- and 87 yards from Alonzo Dennard; scoring runs of three yards by Stevan Ridley and four yards by Shane Vereen, and a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski . . . who also tied the franchise record for extra points in a game, with eight.
The 59 points tied the franchise record for most points in a game, set in a 59-0 win over Tennessee in 2009.
"That was awesome," said Brady. "That was a team win. We got contributions from all three units."
There wasn't much of a contribution on the defensive side of the ball at the beginning. Luck shredded the Pats defense the first two times he had the ball, with a one-yard scoring run by Delone Carter capping a game-opening 80-yard drive, and a 14-yard TD pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton finishing off an 84-yard march that made the score 14-7.
And Bill Belichick was impressed.
"There were five or six times in the game where I thought we were draped all over him; it didn't seem like there was much space at all to get the ball in, and he got it in and they caught it," said the Patriots coach. "They made some good throws and tough catches in there where I thought we had them covered pretty well, but they were still able to execute it."
The game turned quickly, however. The first time the Pats forced Luck and the Colts to punt, Julian Edelman returned it 68 yards for a touchdown, tying the score in the second quarter.
"Julian's been dying to get out there and make plays and he certainly did today," said Brady, referring to the three games Edelman missed because of a broken hand. "And we needed it."
Then it was Talib, who picked off Luck on the second play of the next drive and returned it 59 yards for the touchdown that put New England ahead to stay.
"He's a great cornerback, that's why they traded for him," said Hilton. "He was able to do some things tonight."
Adam Vinatieri (47 yards) and Gostkowski traded field goals later in the quarter, making it 24-17, but Luck's inexperience showed on the last drive of the half. Taking possession at his own 10 with slightly less than two minutes to play, he was able to move the ball downfield (passes of 19 yards to Donnie Avery and 16 yards to Dwayne Allen) and eventually got the Colts into New England territory. But the Colts didn't use their timeouts wisely and took too much time between plays, and in the end had to settle for a 58-yard FG attempt by Vinatieri. It was out of his range, and the half ended with the Patriots maintaining their seven-point lead.
And then they blew it open in the second half. Edelman's second touchdown put them in front 31-17; Gronkowski's second, after the Ninkovich strip sack and fumble recovery, made it 38-17; Dennard's 87-yard interception return on the first play of the fourth quarter gave them a 45-17 lead. After Luck threw a 43-yard scoring pass to Hilton, the Pats added the Ridley and Vereen touchdown runs for the 59-24 final.
One of the keys was their ability to put pressure on Luck, which, in turn, helped the secondary by reducing the amount of time it had to cover.
"That was the point of emphasis, get pressure on Luck," said safety Steve Gregory. "Because if you just let him stand there and throw the ball, he can pick you apart. So we wanted to focus in on getting pressure on the guy, and the guys up front did a great job of it."
The pressure forced the mistakes -- the rookie mistakes -- and the Pats capitalized for their fourth win a row. They're now 7-3, in solid possession of first place in the AFC East, and in position to maneuver their way to another first-round playoff bye if Houston or Baltimore falters in the final six weeks.
That's thinking a little too far ahead for Brady's taste.
"I think we're trying to make improvements," he said. "I don't think we're anywhere where we need to be at this point."
But where they are was more than good enough Sunday.