Frank Reich sure seemed surprised during his postgame press conference. The Indianapolis Colts head coach, whose team had just got steamrolled 26-3 by the New England Patriots, claimed that he did not see the game unfold this way.
“I certainly did not anticipate today. I really didn’t,” Reich said. “I was really anticipating good things.”
While the Colts looked competitive on the defensive side of the ball, their offense had no answers for what the Patriots were throwing at them. Of course, this was exactly what New England was hoping for.
Entering Week 9, after all, the Patriots knew they would go up against a team and offense in particular in the middle of a transformation process. The Colts had not just benched starting quarterback Matt Ryan two weeks ago, they also fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady just five days ahead of the game.
Despite their relatively solid 3-4-1 record, New England held a clear advantage from that perspective. The team of head coach Bill Belichick knew how to take advantage, and it all started with sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
“Our goal all week was to get after the quarterback, get pressure on him,” said defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. after the game. “Games on the inside, beat them on the edge. And we’ve come away with nine sacks, which tied the record, which is awesome.”
Wise Jr. finished the contest with a half a sack, while the team as a whole notched nine — tying the post-merger franchise record.
Matthew Judon and Josh Uche led the way with three takedowns each, while Ja’Whaun Bentley and Reakwon McMillan sacked Ehlinger once. Jahlani Tavai and Wise Jr. split the ninth sack among them. That sack accounted for 15 of the 60 yards Indianapolis lost through sacks on Sunday.
Given that the Colts ended the game with just 121 yards of offense that number is significant, and one the Patriots were aiming at right from the get-go.
“We talked about getting off to an early start,” said safety Devin McCourty. “We’re playing a young quarterback, if you can make it tough like we did today — even that second sack that [Judon] got that ended up getting called back for roughing the pressure — just that pressure, he felt that early in the game. To get to the quarterback two and three times in the first six to nine plays, that’s tough to come into the game.”
Ehlinger ended the game with 15 completions on 29 pass attempts for 103 yards. He led the Colts to one field goal, threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jonathan Jones, and oversaw an 0-for-16 effort on third and fourth down.
The Patriots defense came to play, and Ehlinger as well as his coaching staff had no answers. They never found a rhythm against a defense in full-on attack mode.
“Everybody’s going to look at the nine sacks and think, ‘Oh, that’s on the offensive line.’” Ehlinger said after the game. “It’s on everybody. Route discipline, route spacing. For me, getting the ball out on time, taking check-downs when they’re there, not holding on too long. I thought there were a handful of them that were on me. And it sucks because they’re going to take the heat for that, but it’s on everybody as an offense.”
Likewise, the high number of sacks reflects not just on those who recorded them.
“The sacks are the sacks,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “Some of those came when the quarterback was flushed out by somebody else, somebody else got them. But it was a lot of pressure — we got pressure on early downs, created some long-yardage situations. And [Judon], Josh [Uche], Dan [Ekuale], we had a couple of secondary pressures in there that hit as well. It was just good team defense.
“Any time you have a good pass rush, you have good coverage. Any time you have good coverage, you’ll have a good pass rush. Some of those sacks looked like coverage sacks, where there was nobody to throw to. Some of them were great rush sacks where they didn’t have time to execute the passing game. But good team defense is really what it’s about.”