- Michael Smith, NFL Senior Writer
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FOXBORO, Mass. -- So confident was Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt that he would make a tying, 48-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining in Thursday night's league opener against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium -- and why wouldn't he be; he had only connected on a league-record 42 in a row -- that he turned toward the Patriots' sideline before setting up for the kick and rubbed a few of his fingers together.
For those who don't speak sign language, that's universal for "money."
So sure was Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri that his counterpart would tie the game, he began warming up for a possible overtime game-winner.
"I thought we were going to overtime," Vinatieri, who has made more than his share of clutch kicks, said after the game. "This guy never misses, and I just assumed he was going to make it again."
There's a saying about assuming that isn't quite suitable for print. But it's beginning to approach the point, after Vanderjagt missed wide right to cap yet another Colts loss to the Patriots, where it's a safe bet Indianapolis will find a way to kick itself against New England. The Colts have lost five straight in the series, eight in a row at Foxboro, and 13 of 15 to the Pats since 1996.
Around these parts, the word "curse" comes to mind. But there isn't anything mysterious about why the Colts haven't been able to overcome the Patriots, even on occasions when the Super Bowl champions graciously offer their assistance. Whenever Indianapolis plays New England, it seems the Colts are battling themselves.
The Colts amassed 446 yards of offense and 28 first downs against one of the league's best defenses from last season, one that gets even tighter at home. Indianapolis ran for 202 yards (142 by Edgerrin James), averaging 4.8 yards per carry and, at one point, running the Patriots out of their 3-4 base defense into a 4-3. Peyton Manning completed passes of 64, 45, and 42 yards against a defense that was designed not to give up the big play. For long stretches of the game, the Patriots went without Rodney Harrison and Ty Law (hamstring injuries).
In the end, none of it mattered because the Colts kept giving up the ball at the worst times and in the worst places. Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi intercepted Manning's pass intended for Dallas Clark at New England's 1-yard line on the Colts' first possession. James lost two fumbles, both inside the Patriots' 20, the second coming at the goal line after an end-zone pass-interference penalty that gave Indy a first-and-goal at the 1.
"[The streaks have] nothing to do with New England or the Patriots," Colts president Bill Polian said afterward. "We just played awful football tonight. We were fundamentally as poor as you could be. We tackled poorly, we didn't hold onto the football. We turned it over. You're not going to win in the National Football League playing that kind of football. I can't remember us playing this poorly. Maybe three years ago."
When it was suggested that perhaps some supernatural power was working in favor of the Patriots, to whom the Colts lost twice last season, the first time at the RCA Dome on a goal-line stand to the end the game, Polian replied: "Absolutely not."
"We shot ourselves in the foot, in the head, in the left ear lobe, in the right eye," he said. "We killed ourselves. They're a good team, nobody takes that away from them, but we killed ourselves. This is the worst football game we've played in three years."
Well, now it's going on 10 since the Colts have played the Patriots well enough to beat them, and because of this latest loss, their next opportunity could very well come here, in the playoffs, instead of in Indianapolis. Even after James' fumble with 3:51 to play, the Colts still had one final opportunity to pull it out, after the Pats eschewed new addition Corey Dillon on the next series.
An incompletion on the first play after the 2-minute warning gave the Colts another possession, and they moved from their 36 to the Patriots' 19 on a 45-yard catch and run by Brandon Stokley.
It turned out to be nothing but a tease. On third-and-8 from the 17, Willie McGinest, much as he did last November to stuff James and preserve a 38-34 win in Indy, came unblocked and sacked Manning for a 12-yard loss.
"I came off the end and they forgot about me again," McGinest said.
Before that, the Colts were looking at a 35-yard field goal attempt -- a relative chip shot for Vanderjagt. Now 48 yards ... that's a different story.
Actually, it turned out to be the same old story for the Colts. And, for that matter, for the Patriots, who won their 16th consecutive game -- two shy of the league record.
"Good snap, good hold, good protection," Vanderjagt said. "My foot hitting the field was kind of nasty, but you get used to that in this league. I blame it on nobody but myself. I didn't hit it through the uprights.
"It sucks. I wanted to make it to help Edge out, I wanted to make it to help Peyton out, I wanted to make it so we could win this game. They're clearly not a better team than us. We needed a 3-pointer to win the game, but 48 [yards is] no gimmie."
The Colts wouldn't have needed the three points had they not, frankly, given away the game by going 3-for-7 in the red zone. Allowing the Patriots to rack up 402 yards of offense didn't help either.
"It's very disappointing to come in and we can't execute the fundamentals of football any better than that," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "They're all going to look at Mike and point at the kick and not making it, but we had a lot of bad football going on before that kick. It was probably a fitting end to the game."
Said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, "It seems like all of our games against the Colts are like this."
Don't they know it.
Michael Smith is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
5hBy Jackie MacMullan
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