Defense takes share of the blame

INDIANAPOLIS -- Asked if his decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 at his team's own 28-yard line while holding a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter showed a lack of faith in his defense, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick immediately shook his head and dismissed the question with a simple "No."

His defensive players said they believe it was a sign of confidence in the team as a whole -- not only the offense's ability to pick up that first down, but the defense's potential to stop the Colts on a short field.

Unfortunately for New England, both sides failed and the Indianapolis Colts escaped Lucas Oil Stadium with an improbable 35-34 triumph Sunday night.

Players on the Patriots' defense were still trying to wrap their heads around what unfolded, which included the Colts' scoring 21 fourth-quarter points, including a pair of touchdowns over the final 2:23.

Cornerback Leigh Bodden understood why Belichick's move might appear to reflect a lack of confidence in the defense, but said he interpreted the play calling as a sign of faith.

"You've got to look at it like, if we don't get [the first down], they get the ball right there," said Bodden. "[Belichick] has to have faith in the defense that we can stop them. I don't think it was a lack of faith in anybody."

For more than three quarters, the storyline for the Patriots'
defense was its ability to ground Peyton Manning and the high-octane Colts offense, limiting them to 14 points heading into the final quarter.

After scoring on the second play of the fourth period, the Patriots held a seemingly secure 31-14 advantage. But the Patriots' defense might have taken its foot off the accelerator a bit. Though no one would admit it in the locker room after the game, it seemed the unit gave the Colts a little more room to operate, and Manning and Co.
pounced, picking up momentum in the short passing game.

The Colts put together a trio of lightning-quick touchdown drives that spanned 2:04, 1:49 and 1:47. After Belichick's controversial decision, the Colts took over at the New England 29 with two minutes remaining; they needed only four plays, with Reggie Wayne hauling in the deciding 1-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds to go.

"I think that we knew it took 60 minutes," said linebacker Adalius Thomas. "Not 59, not 59½, not 58. It always comes down to the last play. They made enough plays to win and we didn't."

Already playing without starting defensive ends Jarvis Green and Ty Warren, the Patriots spent much of the game in a 4-2-5 nickel package, treating tight end Dallas Clark like a wide receiver and neutralizing his speed with defensive back coverage.

Even with injuries to linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain, the defense shone in the first half. Despite giving up the first score of the game, the Patriots rebounded with 17 consecutive points -- aided by three-and-outs forced by the defense.

But when the Colts absolutely needed to move down the field -- and do so in a hurry -- the Patriots had no answer. It started with an 80-yard trek that took just 3:02 late in the second quarter. It only got worse in the fourth.

Patriots linebacker/defensive end Derrick Burgess couldn't tell if the Colts did anything differently in that quarter. He simply knew the Patriots didn't do enough.

"All I can worry about is what we've got to do, and right now that's play better," said Burgess.

Asked if the Patriots played better than the Colts, Burgess scoffed.

"There's no such thing, we lost," he said.

The biggest disappointment the defense felt was that it let down an offense that gained 477 total yards.

"The offense scored 34 points and we lost," said safety Brandon Meriweather. "Any time you have a game like that and lose, it's devastating."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.