Patriots’ defense improving with Chiefs, Mahomes up next

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              Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron (85) catches a touchdown pass as New England Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, left, defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — There was plenty to like about the Patriots‘ defensive performance in the first half of their 38-24 victory over the Colts on Thursday night.

The second half brought just as much to be concerned about.

New England’s gaps on the defensive side of the ball were both noticeable and troubling as the Patriots opened 1-2. The lack of a sustained pass rush combined with missed assignments in the secondary helped opponents average 26 points in the three games.

The defense rebounded to give up just seven points in a 38-7 win over Miami, in which it forced a turnover and held the Dolphins to just 172 total yards.

The Patriots were off to a similar start against the Colts on Thursday night, holding them to just three points in the first half and intercepting quarterback Andrew Luck.

But the bad habits that befell the defense during the losing streak came back in the final 30 minutes as Indianapolis got within seven points following a pair of touchdown passes from Luck. Indianapolis finished the game with 439 total yards, the third team this season to eclipse 400 yards against New England.

Linebacker coach Brian Flores said it is proof there’s still room for improvement with a visit from Kansas City and quarterback Patrick Mahomes up next. Mahomes is the hottest quarterback in the NFL, throwing for 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in the unbeaten Chiefs‘ first four games.

“We want to be a tough, aggressive, fast team. There’s always room for improvement in those areas,” said Flores, who is handling play calling duties for the Patriots this season. “I think it’s something we talk about every day. It’s something we harp on. We want the guys to play fast. We want them to play free. We want them to play aggressive.

“I think we’ve gotten that at a more consistent level, but I think we’re always looking for more.”

Injuries have been an issue for the defense this season, though it is getting close to full strength.

Defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung both sat out Week 3 with concussions before returning against the Dolphins. Both combined on a sack against Indianapolis. Chung finished with 11 combined tackles and also had an interception.

He said the next step for this group is finding consistency.

“That is huge; inconsistency is the worst thing you can have in football. We need to continue to be consistent, continue to play hard and execute,” Chung said.

That includes forcing turnovers. The defense had a season-high three against Indianapolis.

“Our job is to get the offense the ball; we were able to do that today and had a couple of big plays,” Chung said. “Hopefully we are able to keep doing that.”

The turnovers were also a welcomed sign to coach Bill Belichick.

“I think defensively you take a lot of pride in those,” he said. “That’s really taking the ball away from the offense as opposed to them just giving it to you. We had a couple of plays like that. We had a couple of other opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on, but it’s always good when you take the ball away from the offense.”