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Colts QB Andrew Luck struggles vs. Patriots but not all blame goes to him

FOXBOROUGH — Drenched in rain and drowning in a double-digit deficit, all Colts quarterback Andrew Luck could do was take out his frustrations on the body barreling his way.

The ball he had floated up for his go-to receiver T.Y. Hilton at the 50-yard line in the third quarter was intercepted by Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis at the 43.

The only player with a chance of keeping Revis from racing up the sideline and piling on another New England score was Luck.

At that moment, Luck’s switch flipped from the quarterback who led the NFL in touchdowns to a player who just wanted — needed — to put a hit on someone.

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He lowered his shoulder and plowed into Revis’s torso, driving him into Colts lineman Lance Louis.

The satisfaction was minimal.

Revis hopped up immediately, wagging his finger (No, no, no!) at the thought of Luck even deciding to test him.

Luck smacked his hands together, screaming at himself for the turnover that all but assured a Patriots victory.

At no point in his young career had Luck struggled like he did in the Colts’ 45-7 loss Sunday night in the AFC Championship game.

He completed just 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards. The interception to Revis was one of two on the night. He finished with a career-worst 23.o passer rating, and a Colts offense that leaned so heavily on his talents all season mustered just 209 total yards.

“Not much went right today,” Luck said.

For a third straight season, the Colts reached the playoffs under Luck and like each of the previous years, they took a step further.

But, with their fate decided by an outcome so lopsided, it was impossible to take any solace in the progress.

“It’s hard to find much good right now,” Luck said. “But I’m very proud of this club. I guess you could say we took another step, but we had our sights set higher and obviously we’re not there.”

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For as high as their ceiling is, the Colts ran into the same wall they did a year ago, when the Patriots bounced them from the playoffs in the divisional round with a 21-point beating.

Knowing the Patriots would try to strip him of Hilton, Luck tried to use as many weapons as possible, targeting nine different receivers, but for the first time since his first ever playoff game he was held without a passing touchdown.

But with the running game all but muzzled (83 yards) it was hard for Luck to make anything happen.

“It’s tough to get open in the back end, whenever their linebackers are dropping out because there’s no threat of run,” said tight end Dwayne Allen. “They have a very talented secondary and they weren’t afraid to match up on us.”

Patrick Chung matched up on Allen. Brandon Browner matched up on Coby Fleener. The linebackers dropped back and took away the crossing routes.

“And that really gave us fits,” Allen said.

But, as easy as it would be to say that the Colts go as Luck goes, coach Chuck Pagano couldn’t put the weight of the loss on his quarterback.

“We’re not going to, obviously, pin it on one guy,” said Pagano. “It takes a lot to come up here and win a football game of this magnitude and beat a team that’s as good as this one is. We’ve got to go back to work and find some of those answers. It doesn’t all fall on the quarterback.

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“We’re going to look at the tape and we’ll move on. We’ll continue to work and grind until we reach that ultimate goal. I’m sure glad we’ve got the guy because I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with you if he wasn’t our quarterback.”

What the Colts realized is that the road to the Super Bowl, through the AFC, runs through New England.

“One thing that’s recurring each year is us getting our butts whipped to these guys,” said Allen.

“So in order for us to take that next step, that’s going to have to change. We’re going to have to either beat them — at home, on the road, wherever — we’re going to have to be able to match up against them.”

Looking at the way the Colts have been manhandled by the Patriots lately, owner Jim Irsay said he wants to put a stronger defense around Luck. But he also didn’t lose sight of how close his team is to the next level.

“We believed that we had the ability to go all the way,” Irsay said. “We thought this was a magical ride and everyone, they bought into that. They believed and they should’ve believed. Didn’t go our way tonight. I’ve been in this thing almost half a century, I know these things happen and you can’t just measure this game and say, ‘Oh, we’re miles away.’

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“Not the case. But we have work to do. Believe me, I’ve thought about it thoroughly and I’m going to continue to get the right pieces in place and I’m happy that we came further than we did last year.”

The feeling of falling short still stuck with Allen, just because of how much potential the team had.

“No longer are we a young team,” Allen said.

“We’re in our third year. This is the year that players either put up or shut up and we were able to put up in the regular season, but you don’t get remembered for the regular season. You get remembered for what you do in the postseason.”

But this time the loss felt different. He couldn’t put his finger on the exact reason other than a sense of nearness, a sense that none of the steps they’ve taken in the last three years has been backwards — even if their footprints always seemed to fade in Foxborough.

“It’s a feeling of hope,” Allen said. “There’s some things that we need to change and get better at, but they’re going to be here in our way every year and we’re going to have to come through here.

“Whether it’s offense or defense or special teams, we’re going to have to do something different to get a different result.”


Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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