Patriots defense lacks consistency despite record
The New England Patriots' young defense kept Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts under control for three quarters. The Patriots forced seven punts, made one interception and led 24-14 with 15 minutes left. But they couldn't finish the job as Manning rallied the Colts to a 35-34 win Sunday night. "We would play well for a series, play real well, and then the next series (with) similar calls and we just maybe didn't play them quite as well," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Tuesday. "We're a little bit inconsistent at this point in time, and that's across the board basically with the young guys, and no particular guy." It could have been worse after the departure of five veteran starters. The Patriots traded linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City in February and cornerback Ellis Hobbs to Philadelphia in April. Then came the retirements of safety Rodney Harrison in June and linebacker Tedy Bruschi in August. The biggest shocker came Sept. 6, eight days before the Patriots' opener, when they traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour to Oakland. Suddenly, the kids had to grow up fast. "Rookies are not rookies anymore," Pees said. "We've played nine games, four preseason games - that's 13. ... That's more than a college season." Three rookie draft choices have played well on a regular basis - safety Pat Chung, cornerback Darius Butler and lineman Myron Pryor. Starting inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite are in their second seasons. Safety Brandon Meriweather has become the leader of the secondary in his third. They've helped the Patriots hold five of their nine opponents under 280 yards. New England was allowing an average of 14.4 points through the first eight games. Even after giving up 35 points Sunday, the Patriots are still third in the league in scoring defense and their three losses came by a combined margin of 11 points. Still, they faltered late in the game at Indianapolis. In the first three quarters, Manning completed 19 of 33 passes for 208 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. In the fourth, he was 9-for-11 for 119 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and led three touchdown drives. The Patriots are home Sunday against Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets, which appears to be a less formidable task. They lost 16-9 to the Jets in the second game of the season, but New York is 2-5 since, while New England is 5-2. The Patriots (6-3) lead the Jets and Miami Dolphins (both 4-5) in the AFC East. "They have added some things offensively (and) defensively," coach Bill Belichick said. "They got us the last time and we need to win the division." Pees denied that fatigue among defenders contributed to Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the New England 28-yard line leading 34-28 with just over two minutes left Sunday. With starters Ty Warren and Jarvis Green out with injuries, the Patriots had just four defensive linemen. "I don't really think that was a factor," Pees said. "Everybody thinks about either the last drive or the last play, but there's always plays in the game that could have changed the outcome. We had two interference calls that were costly penalties. Both of them led to scores, which, if they don't lead to scores, maybe we get off the field."