FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Indianapolis Colts’ defense wants the world to know that it isn't very good.
Despite coming up with five turnovers to key a 27-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night, the Indy defense wants to embrace its reputation for being bad.
At least that was the take from linebacker Cato June, who came up with two of the career-high-tying four interceptions thrown by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The five takeaways marked the most against New England since Oct. 28, 2001.
"That's good," June said, when asked about the criticism Indy's D took after giving up 227 yards rushing in the win at Denver last week. "Keep criticizing. We like that. Keep writing, 'They can't stop the run and that's why they won't win in the playoffs.' "
Or as defensive end Dwight Freeney put it: "Stats lie. You guys write all that stuff about how we can't stop the run, how we're no good. … What we understand is that whatever we had to do to get the ball back for our offense, that's what we have to do. That's it, however we do it."
Athletes love the idea of proving people wrong – especially guys like June, a former sixth-round pick who wasn't supposed to be much more than a skinny special teams player, and Freeney, who was downgraded because of his lack of size. They embrace the underdog mentality. They love to be told that something is going to go wrong while they are lapping the field.
After Sunday's win over the Patriots, the 8-0 Colts aren't just the lone remaining undefeated team in the NFL. They are also at least two games up on the entire AFC, three games up on division rival Jacksonville and essentially have the same lead over conference rivals Denver and New England after posting back-to-back road wins.
The season is only half done, but Indianapolis is in full control.
Obviously, the Colts are in this position mostly on the strength of their offense. Quarterback Peyton Manning continued his quest for another NFL MVP award by going 20-for-36 for 326 yards and two touchdown passes, both to wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
Manning dealt with constant pressure by New England, which finished with three sacks and forced him out of the pocket several times, which is normally where he struggles. Instead, Manning turned two broken plays into big gains with a 44-yarder to Harrison and a 35-yarder to Dallas Clark on scrambles to his left.
In fact, from Manning's standpoint, this was a significant step of progress.
"They [the Patriots] do a great job of disguising what they do," said Manning, who led Indianapolis to scores on each of its first three possessions to extend the offense's streak of scoring drives (kneel downs excluded) to 10 straight dating to the Denver game. "They make the blitz look just like an eight-man coverage and they're very good at that."
Whatever they Patriots were trying to do, Manning seemed to decipher it.
"I think it's fair to say that we made plays when they were blitzing," he said.
Harrison was even more impressive with his eight receptions for 145 yards, including a four-yard touchdown catch that ranks as one of the greatest grabs of his career.
Manning threw a fade pattern to the right side of the end zone, and Harrison deflected the ball with one hand, turned his body to snare it with both hands and simultaneously dragged his feet before falling out of bounds.
However, the Colts' offense was not without fault. Kicker Adam Vinatieri made his return to New England and looked nothing like the guy who helped secure three Super Bowl titles with his clutch work. He missed two field goals, including a 46-yard miss with less than two minutes remaining that ended a streak of 20 consecutive makes in the fourth quarter or overtime.
That's where the defense rescued the Colts with one timely turnover after another. Not that the defense was consistent – Indy allowed the Patriots to convert eight of 14 third- or fourth-down situations – but it did come up with one play after another.
The first of those plays came on the first possession. New England quickly drove to the Colts' 34-yard line, even overcoming a second-and-21 situation with relative ease. At that point, Brady went for the big play, throwing deep down the left side. The only problem was that he threw into coverage and left the ball too far in the middle of the field for rookie safety Antoine Bethea.
"Yeah, he told me later he should have just thrown that one out of bounds," Bethea said.
Brady finished the first half with another interception on a deep throw. His last two both came on tipped passes in the fourth quarter, ending two chances for the Patriots to tie the game.
While it seemed to be an odd game for Brady and the Pats, the Colts said it was all part of the plan.
"Coach [Tony] Dungy said we were going to have chances to get turnovers in this game and get the ball back for our offense and that's what we wanted to do," June said.
When asked how Dungy figured that would happen, June said it was not up to him to question the logic.
"He's a smart man," June said. "It's up to us to make it happen."