Not only did the Patriots lose for the first time in six trips to the AFC Championship Game, they did it in historic fashion.
Their 38-34 loss in Indianapolis on Sunday came after they led 21-3 in the first half, marking the largest blown lead in the history of conference championship games.
"It was about as competitive a game as you could get," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "They just made a few more plays than we did."
In a game that featured 72 total points, the Colts scored 35 of the final 48 in mounting their comeback.
"Both teams scored a lot of points today," Belichick said. "We played the defenses we thought were best for our football team today."
Like Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady was clearly frustrated after a chance to reach another Super Bowl slipped away.
"We let too many opportunities get away," he said. "I think we'll all look at this one ... we just left too many plays out there."
Like many Patriots, it was Brady's first experience with reaching the conference championship but not continuing on to the Super Bowl.
"It's frustrating when it ends like this, because the expectations are always a bit higher," said Brady. "But I'm proud of the competitiveness we showed. We just have to come back and do it better next year."
When ask if he had a "great year," Brady could only reflect on Sunday's disappointment.
"Things are always judged on whether you win the Super Bowl or not," he said. "So, we're in the AFC championship coming down in the fourth quarter with the lead, you're three-and-a-half minutes from winning the AFC championship. Every year is different, you just try to take what you learn, move on and do it better next year.
|New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sits on the turf in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship football game Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007, in Indianapolis. Indianapolis beat New England 38-34. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)|
--CB Ellis Hobbs had three tackles and a key pass interference play, but his biggest impact came on special teams. Hobbs returned six kicks for 220 yards (36.7-yard average), including a key 80-yard return to help set up a touchdown in the second half.
--WR Reche Caldwell caught four passes for 46 yards, but he also dropped two more easy ones -- one that would have been a touchdown and one on a short pass in which he was uncovered at the line of scrimmage.
--LB Eric Alexander led the Patriots with 10 tackles against the Colts.
--Rookie K Stephen Gostkowski made field goals of 28 and 43 yards Sunday, improving his mark to 8-for-8 during the Patriots' three playoff games.