FOXBORO, Mass. -- The Indianapolis Colts took the field at Gillette Stadium already down two players from the maximum of 46 allowed on the active roster. And they were down to 40 players by the time the game ended in a 38-24 loss to the New England Patriots.
But you would have never thought the Colts were without their best defensive player, top receiver, tight end, running back and cornerbacks early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Andrew Luck looked like his vintage self with the throws he was making in leading them back to within seven points.
These aren't the Colts of old, who would fall behind big early and never make it much of a game. One of the things coach Frank Reich has instilled is a constant competitive culture.
When it was all over, though, the Colts' youth and miscues were too much to overcome in their eighth straight loss to the Patriots.
"There's no other locker room I'd rather be in," Reich said. "But we have to own what we put up. We've put up 1-4 and we have to own that. That's part of turning things around. We believe we have a good team. We have not played our best football yet. We're not consistent enough."
The simple explanation for the Colts losing to the Patriots would be to say that their roster was ravaged by injuries. But, that would let them off the hook too easily.
Injuries weren't the reason that kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 38-yard field goal, ending an impressive 14-play drive when they were down 7-0. They also don't explain why Colts receivers had at least five drops. The same with Jordan Wilkins having the ball stripped because he didn't secure it while trying to pick up extra yards. Or why receiver Zach Pascal dropped a pass that went to Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty when Indianapolis was trying to cut into New England's 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"We're not going to learn how to win consistently until we get out of our way," Luck said. "That's not taking anything away from New England. They beat us fair and square. They were the better team today. When we look at ourselves, we're going to have to learn how to not to lose before we give ourselves a chance to win. It's frustrating. We're all frustrated, but I don't think anybody is losing belief."
And even as good as Luck played, especially in the second half, he wasn't immune from mistakes. He was intercepted when he forced a pass while under duress late in the first half. That was Luck's biggest blemish. He followed up his 464-yard passing game in Week 4 by going 38-of-59 for 365 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions as he continues his impressive comeback. Luck has attempted 121 passes in a five-day span.
"He's playing really good," Reich said. "Threw the ball great. Every kind of throw you can throw. Very good decisions. Playmaking."
The Colts' defense picked off two passes despite ending the game without five starters. It was too bad they couldn't take advantage of those opportunities. The Colts scored seven points off those turnovers. The Patriots scored 10 points off the Colts' three turnovers.
It's unknown when the Colts (1-4) will be a healthy team again, meaning they'll continue to lean on their youth. One thing that will continue to happen throughout this process is that they'll be competitive.
"This team never fights stopping," center Ryan Kelly said. "I've been on teams in high school, college, NFL where teams lay down. Have big-ego guys on the roster and they shut it down. This isn't one of them. With that said, it's a win-loss production league. But know, this team isn't going to give up and ultimately going to carry us."