FOXBOROUGH - Eventually, it had to happen.
Yesterday was Monday. And, apparently, Eventually.
The Indianapolis Colts, a team so battered by New England in recent years that it was in need of therapy, found relief last night.
There was no couch in sight, though the Colts did push the Patriots around like they were furniture on wheels, rolling to a 40-21 win before a stunned sellout crowd and national television audience.
The loss snaps the Patriots’ six-game winning streak in the series, dating to the 2000 season and including a pair of playoff victories, and left the Patriots wondering just what has become of the team that won the past two Super Bowls.
“No passion,” receiver Troy Brown said. “We got it handed to us. Any which way you can name it, we got beat. We just got our heads kicked in. I don’t know what other way to describe it.
“Just no passion. Across the board, everybody. How many ever people we had out there . . . across the board.”
Gillette Stadium, one of the most difficult places for visitors to play since it opened in 2002, has suddenly become far less intimidating. The Patriots have lost two of their last three home games, after winning 21 straight.
New England dropped to 4-4 on the season, marking the latest in a season it has been .500 or worse since it was 5-5 in the 2002 season, the only season in the past four that it didn’t win the Super Bowl. Indianapolis improved to 8-0, the best record in the league and the best start in the franchise’s 58-year history.
The Colts put up 453 yards, the second-most allowed by the Patriots this year, with Peyton Manning throwing for 321, Edgerrin James rushing for 104, and Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne each getting nine catches for more than 100 receiving yards.
The Colts punted only once, and that was with little more than a minute left in the game.
“They ran the ball when they wanted to run it, they passed the ball when they wanted to pass it, what happened is pretty much self-explanatory,” defensive end Ty Warren said. “They did everything they did at will.”
Things got so bad that backup quarterback Doug Flutie was brought in for mop-up duty for the final 1:03, his first action of the season, and first as a Patriot since 1989. Fittingly, on the game’s final play, Robert Mathis sacked Flutie, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Montae Reagor.
The Colts took a 21-7 lead at halftime and increased it to three touchdowns before many of the patrons had returned from refreshment runs.
The Patriots, desperate to stay with a Colts offense that wasn’t about to be stopped, committed the faux paus of a three-and-out on the initial series of the second half. And they did it in just about the shortest possible time.
A mere 14 seconds ticked off the clock from the first snap to the fourth-down snap to punter Josh Miller, as Tom Brady misfired on three consecutive passes.
The Colts ran onto the field and soon ran into the end zone. This time, Dominic Rhodes notched the score, running in from 4 yards to finish off an 11-play, 60-yard drive.
“When they scored a touchdown, we should have went back out there and scored, and we didn’t do that,” said receiver Deion Branch. “It was one of those games where we couldn’t leave any points on the field and we left points on the field.”
Tight end Daniel Graham took a screen pass from Brady and rambled 31 yards for a touchdown to pull New England within 28-14 with 5:46 left in the third.
Then, in perhaps the most curious decision of the evening, the Patriots tried an onside kick. Not only was the play unsuccessful, but a Patriot was offsides, moving the ball 5 yards ahead of Joseph Jefferson’s return to the New England 27.
Only 22 yards from paydirt, Manning & Co. were finally held, but Mike Vanderjagt was good on a gift 35-yard field goal for a 31-14 lead.
“Trying to come up with the ball,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick when asked about the onside kick during his 2-minute-20-second postgame news conference.
Brady, who held an even shorter media session than Belichick delivering a statement that lasted less than 20 seconds was hot in the first half (10 of 10 for 105 yards), but outdueled overall by Manning, who completed 28 of 37 passes. Brady was just 12 for 23 in the second half, and couldn’t keep answering the high-powered Colts.
Even a second-quarter Manning interception didn’t prove very costly, as the Patriots returned the ball on a fumble by Corey Dillon (40 yards on 12 carries).
It was a deflating turnover, as the Patriots had converted a third-and-23 with an unlikely 35-yard pass to David Givens two plays earlier to move into Colts territory. The Colts drove to a touchdown to take a two-touchdown lead at the intermission.
“Well, obviously we didn’t match up very well to the Colts in any aspect of the game,” Belichick said. “They just completely outplayed us.
“They outplayed us. They outcoached us. They were better than we were as a football team tonight.”
Brown believes he knows why.
“We’re bruised. We all are,” Brown said. “It’s something we’re not used to around here. At least go out there and finish the game. Play hard for 60 minutes. We have to find a way to bring passion back to this team.
“You can’t play this game, three plays with passion and another five plays with no passion. You have to love what you do when you’re out there and that goes for all of us.
“It was just bad.”