National Football League
Patriots defense continues to ascend, sacking Colts' Sam Ehlinger 9 times in win
National Football League

Patriots defense continues to ascend, sacking Colts' Sam Ehlinger 9 times in win

Updated Nov. 6, 2022 6:37 p.m. ET

On paper, the New England Patriots defense had an opportunity to feast. 

The Indianapolis Colts were in a tumultuous state offensively, after all. In the last two weeks, quarterback Matt Ryan was benched, offensive coordinator Marcus Brady fired and running back Nyheim Hines — one of the team's top weapons — traded to the Buffalo Bills. And they arrived in Foxborough with no Jonathan Taylor to take pressure off Sam Ehlinger, making his second career start. The ankle injury that has nagged the All-Pro tailback kept him sidelined again for Week 9. 

But the Patriots did more than take advantage of the Colts' state. 

They dominated.


New England's defense wreaked havoc in a 26-3 stomping of Indianapolis Sunday at Gillette Stadium, leading the Patriots (5-4) to their second straight win as they head into their bye. The Colts (3-5-1), now on a three-game losing streak, remain winless at New England in the last 16 years. 

The Patriots embarrassed every facet of the Colts offense. They sacked Ehlinger nine times. They recorded a pick-six (a 16-yard score courtesy of cornerback Jonathan Jones in the fourth quarter). They held the Colts without a single third-down conversion (0-for-14). They held the Colts to 121 yards of offense, on a measly two yards per play. 

Indianapolis had no run game, its bread and butter, to take pressure off Ehlinger, making just his fifth NFL appearance and second of significance. 

"We don't want to give up (any) yards," Patriots edge rusher Matt Judon said. "We don't want to give up nothing. You have to earn everything. And that's what we're going to make offenses do." 

The dominance started up front for New England. Pressure came from everywhere. Judon and fellow outside linebacker Josh Uche had three sacks apiece, but four others had at least half a sack (Raekwon McMillan and Ja'Whaun Bentley had one; Jahlani Tavai and Deatrich Wise Jr. had ½ each). The Patriots had 12 quarterback hits overall. 

It was New England's pass rush that ruined Indianapolis' best chance at a touchdown. It was in the third quarter. The Colts had been riding momentum offensively for the first time after a takeaway. They soon faced third-and-7 at the Patriots 13. But they left Judon unblocked off the edge. He sacked Ehlinger for a nine-yard loss, forcing the Colts to settle for a 40-yard field goal, which place kicker Chase McLaughlin hit for the Colts' only points of the game.

"He's a very electrifying player," Wise said of Judon, who also had a team-high four quarterback hits and six tackles in the game. "Once he makes his play, you can tell that the morale of the team builds. The confidence of the team (rises)."

Winners of four games in five weeks, Bill Belichick and the Patriots are ascending. It's thanks to their defense, with their Judon-led front and a rising secondary that can cover at an elite level. Sunday's dominant performance followed last week's win over the Jets, when they picked off Zach Wilson three times. 

The way the Patriots defense has played of late has overcome Mac Jones' Year 2 struggles. The 2021 first-round pick hasn't been able to capitalize on the momentum from his Pro-Bowl rookie season, when he completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. So far this year, Jones has already missed three games thanks to a high-ankle sprain. And there was his three-series cameo against the Bears on Monday Night Football in Week 7, when fans called for his backup, Bailey Zappe, to replace him. 

In the Patriots' last two games, Jones has just 341 passing yards and two touchdowns with an interception on an underwhelming 5.2 yards per attempt. That doesn't cut it. 

But the defense does cut it, giving the Patriots hope in a strong AFC East for a late-season run. 

"We just got to continue to build," veteran safety Devin McCourty said. "It's not going to get easier at this point in the season. We got to still play better."

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.


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