Late Collapse vs Colts A Real Concern

After jumping out to a big lead against the winless Colts, the Patriots defense gave up points and yardage at an alarming rate. Is this tendency going to derail their possible playoff run?

Late defensive collapse is cause for concern

   The good news for Bill Belichick is that his team is on a four-game winning streak, and this week the Patriots (9-3) head south down I-95 to Washington to take on a Redskins team that's 4-8.

   Belichick's teams generally play their best football after Thanksgiving and win a lot of games heading toward the postseason.

   In dismissing the winless Colts last weekend in Foxborough, New England got off to a winning start in December, but to say that the team is playing its best football may be a bit of a stretch.

   Facing the Peyton Manning-less visitors from Indianapolis, the Patriots were a heavy favorite against the Colts and were expected to blow them out.

   That's exactly what was transpiring late in the third quarter when Rob Gronkowski scored his third touchdown of the afternoon to give New England a 31-3 lead in a game that looked to be well in hand.

   But at that point New England's high-scoring offense began experiencing a drought, while the Patriots' makeshift, developing defense went into the tank. While Tom Brady and Co. put up three straight three-and-outs, Dan Orlovsky led the Colts on three straight scoring drives, including two late in the fourth quarter in which the career winless passer completed 12 of his 13 throws.

   Not surprisingly, Belichick was happy that his team got the win but none too pleased with the final quarter's efforts.

   "It's good to be 9-3," Belichick said. "Hopefully we can keep improving here through the last quarter of the season. We've obviously got to do a better job of finishing the game. That was disappointing, but we'll work on that. We'll get back to work here and get ready for Washington next week."

   Defensively, the bottom fell out.

   "We always talk about that you have to play your best football after Thanksgiving, and that's what we're trying to do. Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter, we didn't do that," defensive co-captain Jerod Mayo said.

   Safety James Ihedigbo said, "We have to finish games. It was good (against the Colts), but against other teams, it's not going to be good enough. That's how you can let games slip away. Even though we are sitting here at 9-3, there is a lot we have to work on."

   They'll get that chance Sunday afternoon against Rex Grossman and the Redskins.

   LINEUP WATCH: New England continues to have a rotating roster along the offensive line, especially at the center position. Recently called-up practice squad player Nick McDonald made the start against the Colts, the fourth different starter the Patriots have used in the middle this season. Former Pro Bowler Dan Koppen broke his leg in the opener. Versatile backup Dan Connolly has missed two weeks with a groin issue, and third-stringer Ryan Wendell was active but banged up himself against Indianapolis as he deals with a calf issue.

   BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Touchdown receptions second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski needs to break the NFL record for touchdown catches by a tight end in one season. He now shares the mark, 13, with Antonio Gates (2004) and Vernon Davis (2009).

NOTES

   --S Patrick Chung missed his fourth straight game with a foot injury. Chung warmed up prior to the game against Indy, but it was quickly decided that he could not go.
   --LB Brandon Spikes also missed his fourth straight game thanks to a knee injury. Spikes had returned to the practice field for a walkthrough last week.
   --LB Dane Fletcher missed his sixth straight game due to a thumb injury.
   --C Dan Connolly (groin) was inactive for the second straight week.
   --RT Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot) missed the Indianapolis game thanks to an injury suffered the previous week in Philadelphia. Vollmer missed five games earlier this season with a back ailment.
   --QB Ryan Mallett and RB Shane Vereen (hamstring) were among New England's seven game-day inactives against the Colts.
   --WR Taylor Price, a 2010 third-round pick, was cut by New England on Saturday. Price was inactive in 15 of 16 games as a rookie. He had been inactive five times and did not play three times this season. He caught three passes for 41 yards in 2010, and he didn't have a reception this year.
   --G/C Nick McDonald was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster for the game against the Colts. McDonald started at center Sunday.

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