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Their legs were taken out

Abandoning run didn't help Patriots

FOXBOROUGH -- There is a billboard for an airline above Interstate 65 in Indianapolis with a picture of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, his right arm cocked, that reads, "Taking care of business. Mostly through the air."

The Colts' offense came as advertised in a 27-20 victory over the Patriots Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, as Manning, who was 20 of 36 for 326 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception), dropped back to pass on 39 of Indianapolis's 64 offensive snaps.

To beat Manning and the Colts, the Patriots needed to take care of business on the ground against a defense that ranked last in the league against the run. They did in the first half, racking up 97 yards on 22 carries and scoring on two Corey Dillon runs, but New England ran the ball only 11 times for 51 yards the rest of the way.

"In the first half, [the run blocking] was pretty good, and in the second half, I thought we were still doing a good job," said Patriots guard Logan Mankins. "We started throwing the ball more than we were running it, so . . ."

Like the Patriots' run game, Mankins trailed off.

New England ran 68 offensive plays, 33 runs and 35 passes.

Offensive linemen always prefer to run-block than pass-block, but Mankins maintained that the line had a lot of confidence that it could keep the Patriots in the game and Manning off the field.

The Patriots entered the game with the eighth-rated rushing attack in the league, averaging 124.9 yards per game. Against the Colts, they averaged 4.5 yards per carry (33 rushes for 148 yards).

"We felt we could run the ball and they couldn't stop us," said Mankins.

The question is, did the Patriots abandon the run too soon?

Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark seemed to think so. "We didn't get quite that lead where it forced them to throw," said Clark.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick disagreed with Mankins's assessment of the running game. He said the rushing attack, like everything else for New England, was a mixed bag.

"We had some plays that weren't that successful early, mid-third quarter," said the coach. "Then we came back and made a couple adjustments, and then had a couple more successful plays in the running game, but it wasn't consistent."

Belichick is right about the third quarter.

The Patriots ran the ball seven times in the third for 13 yards and had three runs for negative yardage and one for no gain. Even one of the positive rushes -- a 4-yarder by Dillon on New England's first offensive snap of the second half -- turned into a negative play when Colts lineman Raheem Brock pried the ball from Dillon's hands before he hit the ground.

That type of output -- or lack thereof -- would affect any coach's play-calling.

"Yeah, it probably did have an effect," said Mankins. "Even on the one Corey fumbled, we had a good run on it. He was well into the line and down the field. I don't know what goes into Coach's head when he makes calls, but whatever he calls, we're happy with and live with."

One of the negative third-quarter running plays was a 2-yard loss by Laurence Maroney on a tackle by Colts safety Bob Sanders on second and 5 from the Indianapolis 16. That forced the Patriots into a third and 7, on which Tom Brady threw an incompletion. New England ended up with no points when rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed a 36-yard field goal attempt wide right that would have cut the Colts' lead to 24-20.

Sanders's return after missing five games while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee seemed to take the Indianapolis run defense from porous to merely pliable, as the Pro Bowl safety used his speed to come from the back and make plays as the eighth run defender, most of the time unblocked, according to Belichick.

"Bob helped us," said Colts coach Tony Dungy. "He brought some energy and tackling."

"Any time you're unblocked, you should make the tackle," said Mankins. "He's a good player, a good run-force player. He played good. Their defense played good, but they still didn't stop the run. We just had to get away from it."

However, in getting away from the run, the Patriots may have let the game get away from them. Against the Colts' high-powered attack, the best defense is a good offense, one that keeps Manning & Co. off the field and puts points on the scoreboard at the same time.

"Every week they score a lot of points, so we knew going in that we were going to have to outscore them," said Mankins.

In the NFL, the fastest way to score points is usually via the pass. But with Brady incapable of matching the Indianapolis air show -- uncharacteristically throwing four interceptions -- the best plan of action for the Patriots may have been to preach patience and stay on the ground.

"We should have scored a lot more, at least a couple of touchdowns more," said Mankins, "but should of, would of, could of . . . "

Mike Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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