Patriots-Colts takeaways: Disastrous QB play costs Pats in ugly loss

Patriots-Colts takeaways: Disastrous QB play costs Pats in ugly loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has given a lot of bad performances this season, but Sunday's effort might have been his worst.

Jones turned the ball over late in the fourth quarter on an abysmal throw that resulted in an interception. The Patriots entered this game as the second-lowest scoring team in the league, and they couldn't find the end zone once in a 10-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt, Germany.

The Patriots are 2-8 for the first time since 2000 and they sit at the bottom of the AFC standings.

The Patriots have a Week 11 bye to rest up and try to sort out the many issues plaguing the team before returning to game action in Week 12 at the New York Giants.

But before we look too far ahead, here are four takeaways from Patriots -Colts.

Mac Jones can't protect the ball

Ball security is job security, and it's fair to wonder how many more chances the Patriots will give Mac Jones when he keeps turning the ball over, especially at the most inopportune times.

Jones was nearly intercepted on a red zone possession early in the fourth quarter when he missed a wide-open Hunter Henry. The Patriots' next drive also journeyed into the red zone, and Jones again threw the ball into danger. This time, the Colts picked it off. Jones had tight end Mike Gesicki wide open in the end zone but his throw was woefully short and Colts safety Julian Blackmon caught it at the goal line.

Jones completed 15 of 20 pass attempt but tallied just 170 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception. He has thrown an interception in eight of his 10 games this season, and the Patriots lost all of them. He has a league-leading 10 interceptions and four fumbles lost through 10 weeks.

The Patriots got the ball back with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter and Bill Belichick put backup quarterback Bailey Zappe in the game instead of Jones. Zappe was intercepted on a horrible throw to seal the loss.

Jones and Zappe have both played awful this season. Is it time to give Will Grier a chance after the bye week? The Patriots might as well because they don't have anything to lose at this point. This quarterback situation couldn't be more of a disaster right now.

Patriots rushing attack firing on all cylinders

This game was pretty ugly on a lot of fronts for the Patriots, but the rushing attack was one of the few bright spots.

Neither Rhamondre Stevenson nor Ezekiel Elliott had any big plays of 20-plus yards, but they consistently picked up good chunks of yards by wearing down the Colts defense and breaking tackles. The Patriots racked up a season-high 167 yards on the ground. It marks just the third time this season they've ran for 100-plus yards in a game. Two of those instances have come in the last two weeks.

New England was efficient in the run game, too, picking up 4.6 yards per carry. Stevenson led the team with 88 yards on 20 carries, while Elliott added 54 yards on 13 carries.

Stevenson has found his groove of late with 87 yards in Week 9 and 88 on Sunday. He tallied fewer than 75 rushing yards in each of the first eight games.

New England's passing attack remains a disaster, but the ground game seems to be rounding into form. It's important for the Patriots to build on this success over the last two games and keep feeding the Stevenson/Elliott tandem in future weeks.

Pass protection takes a step back

Trent Brown's absence at left tackle was very noticeable Sunday as the Patriots offensive line really struggled to pass protect.

The Colts entered this game ranked dead last in blitz percentage and they didn't send extra defenders in the pass rush very often in this game. And yet, Indy consistently pressured Jones and tallied five sacks and nine QB hits.

These sacks came at the worst time for the Patriots as four of the five came on third down plays and ended drives.

The Patriots pass offense is pretty much non-existent when Jones doesn't have time to throw the football, mainly because it takes the team's wide receivers a long time to get open. If Jones is forced to speed up his decision-making because of consistent pressure in the pocket, that's where mistakes like turnovers often occur.

Third down is among top issues for Patriots

It's hard to win games when you consistently fail to convert on third downs, and that's exactly what is happening with the Patriots offense right now.

This isn't a new issue, either. We've seen the Patriots consistently struggle in these situations throughout the year. The most troubling factor for New England is this problem seems to be getting worse as the season progresses.

The Patriots started out 2-for-7 on third down against the Colts. They picked up a few third downs to make the final number respectable, but overall, it's an area that must be addressed during the bye week.

Here's how the Patriots have fared on third down over the last three weeks:

  • Week 8 vs. Dolphins: 1-for-9

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: 3-for-12

  • Week 10 vs. Colts: 6-for-14

Unsurprisingly, the Patriots lost all three of these games. On the season, the Patriots rank 27th on third down with a 33.3 percent conversion rate.

Sacks, as noted above, were the source of much of the third-down failures for the Patriots on Sunday. The play-calling also was questionable. The Patriots had three third downs in the first half where they needed four or fewer yards for a first down and they didn't run the ball on any of those plays despite picking up 3.9 yards per carry over the first two quarters.

It happened again on the Patriots' first drive of the second half. The Patriots ran the ball at will all the way down to the Colts' 17-yard line and faced a third-and-2. Instead of keeping it on the ground, Jones came out in shotgun and dropped back to pass. He was nearly sacked and managed to flip the ball out to Stevenson, which almost resulted in a turnover. It was an ugly play and a bad play call.

The Patriots won't see much improvement offensively unless they can execute better on third down.

JuJu Smith-Schuster again fails to make an impact

The Patriots needed a good performance from their veteran wide receiver with Kendrick Bourne (ACL) and DeVante Parker (concussion) out of the lineup due to injury.

Smith-Schuster again failed to make a meaningful impact. In fact, you could say he hurt the team Sunday. He was flagged twice for two pre-snap penalties. One of them -- an illegal shift penalty in the fourth quarter -- wiped out a 19-yard run by Elliott.

Smith-Schuster caught only one pass for nine yards. It was his only target of the game. Smith-Schuster has caught only one pass in four of his eight games played this season. Overall, he has tallied just 22 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown through 10 weeks.

Just when you think Smith-Schuster can't play any worse, he finds new ways to be a negative on offense.