Interim Indianapolis Colts coach Bruce Arians was willing to give the Patriots credit for a dominating performance in Andrew Luck's first game at New England.
Just don't call it a blowout.
Arians found plenty of fault with the Colts, who had hoped to continue a four-game winning streak against a team that was one of their biggest rivals during the Peyton Manning Era. But Luck threw three interceptions — two were returned for touchdowns — and the Patriots also scored on a punt return for a 59-24 victory that matched the highest-scoring game in franchise history.
"I didn't think we were blown out until the third quarter," Arians said after a reporter asked what he could say to his team after losing by five touchdowns. "I thought we played a good half of football. A couple of plays that cost us 21 points; 21 points is the difference in the game. We gave them those 21 points. So, I wouldn't say they blew us out."
Luck completed 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns, but he also sailed a pair of throws into the arms of Patriots who ran them back — 87 and 59 yards — for touchdowns. Luck also had a fumble that came one play before Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a 34-yard touchdown pass.
"Obviously, they created a lot of turnovers. You know, when they did intercept the ball they did a great job of running it back," Luck said. "They're good enough; they don't need those gifts, per se. But to their credit, they created those and we didn't. Such is the game."
Brady threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns for the Patriots in the first matchup between three-time Super Bowl winner Brady and the No. 1 draft pick who was brought in to replace Manning, the longtime New England nemesis.
The Patriots (7-3) won their fourth straight game and extended their lead in the AFC East to three games over the other three teams. The Colts (6-4) had their four-game winning streak stopped by the NFL's best offense and one of its worst defenses.
Now New England must hurry to prepare for its Thanksgiving night meeting with the Jets (4-6). New York ended a three-game slide with a 27-13 win over the St. Louis Rams.
For the Patriots, Sunday's win was their most complete in a season in which they've averaged 35.8 points per game and lost their three games by a combined margin of four points.
The 59 points equals the team mark set in a 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 18, 2009.
The Patriots scored on a 68-yard punt return by Julian Edelman and on interception returns of 59 yards by newcomer Aqib Talib and 87 yards by Alfonzo Dennard. And Rob Ninkovich's fifth forced fumble of the season set up Rob Gronkowski's second scoring grab on the next play.
Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and no interceptions. Luck was 27 for 50 for two touchdowns and 334 yards and set an NFL record as the first rookie with five 300-yard games. But he also threw three interceptions.
The Colts trailed by only 24-17 heading into the third quarter. Then the Patriots scored on passes of 2 yards to Edelman and 24 yards to Gronkowski and Dennard's interception return.
Luck followed with a 43-yard scoring pass to T.Y. Hilton, the second of the game to the fellow rookie, but the Patriots responded with touchdown runs of 3 yards by Stevan Ridley and 4 yards by Shane Vereen.
The game began with touchdowns on the first three series — a 1-yard run by Delone Carter of the Colts, a 4-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski, and a 14-yard pass from Luck to Hilton.
Stephen Gostkowski then missed a 36-yard field goal attempt for the Patriots.
But their fortunes changed four plays later when Edelman brought a punt back for a touchdown for the third time in his career after the defense forced Luck into a three-and-out. And just three plays and 61 seconds after that, the Patriots scored again on Talib's touchdown as the Patriots took the lead for good 21-14 with 10:59 left in the second quarter.
The catch was an easy one — Luck threw the ball high over Reggie Wayne's head — but the run was exceptional as Talib cut from the right side of the field all the way to the left, eluding numerous Colts.
The Patriots obtained Talib from Tampa Bay before last Sunday's 37-31 win over Buffalo. But he sat that one out to complete a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, booed often in a stadium where he once was adored for his two Super Bowl-winning field goals, cut the lead to 21-17 on a 47-yard field goal 5:46 before intermission.
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