Rapid Reaction: Pats 31, Colts 24

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 31-24 win over the Colts at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The Patriots keep pace for the top seed in the AFC and improve to 9-3. The Colts drop to 0-12. The big swing in the game came at the end of the second quarter when the Patriots led 10-3. The Patriots stopped the Colts, called timeout, then got the ball back at their own 40 with 1:38 left in the half. They then drove for a touchdown, got the ball at the start of the third quarter and scored a touchdown, and that was the knockout punch. For the second week in a row, Tom Brady was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter, as backup Brian Hoyer came on (Brady was back for the final kneeldown). The game wasn't as close as the final score indicated as the Colts scored two touchdowns late.

Gronkowski solidifies standing as top NFL tight end: Second-year Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski caught his 12th and 13th touchdown passes of the season, tying the NFL single-season record by a tight end (Antonio Gates in 2004 and Vernon Davis in 2009). It looked like he had his record-breaking 14th but the play was later ruled a lateral and a rushing touchdown. Gronkowski didn’t do one of his patented “boom!” spikes after the third touchdown, thinking he had set the record. He’s had a remarkable year.

Defense carved up but strong in red zone when it counted: Things weren’t looking good for the Patriots’ defense on the Colts’ second offensive drive. They were losing the battle on third down as four conversions advanced the ball to the 1-yard line and chewed up the final 9:30 of the first quarter. But as has been the case all season, the D seems to be at its best inside the 20. A run was stopped for no gain, and it was followed by an incomplete pass. A false start penalty pushed the Colts back and the Patriots ultimately forced a field goal. That was a win for New England on the Colts’ 19-play drive, and while the defense showed significant vulnerability at other points in the game, it held its ground enough on a day that the offense blitzed the Colts in the second and third quarters.

Vinatieri hears boos from Gillette fans: Kicker Adam Vinatieri played for the Patriots from 1996 to 2005 and his clutch right foot played a big part in delivering three Super Bowl championships. Yet that didn’t stop the home crowd from booing him when he came on for a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter. This was Vinatieri’s third trip back to Gillette as a member of the Colts (2006 and 2010), and he’s been booed each time during the game.

Ochocinco back in the mix as No. 3 receiver: Some might say the Gillette Stadium crowd has a sense of humor after it gave veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco a huge cheer when he made his 12th reception of the season in the second quarter. Ochocinco hasn’t produced as expected this season. After missing last week’s game in Philadelphia, Ochocinco was part of the No. 3 receiver mix along with Tiquan Underwood and Julian Edelman. He played 10 snaps, all in the first half, and some were in the hurry-up offense, which is a good sign for him.

Fourth center of the season & offense doesn't miss beat: An easy-to-overlook storyline is that the Patriots went wire to wire with Nick McDonald at center, as he was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday because of injuries to Dan Koppen (IR, foot), Dan Connolly (groin) and Ryan Wendell (calf). He is the fourth center to start for the Patriots this season and there were no issues with the shotgun snap. The offense didn't break stride.

What’s next: The Patriots travel to Washington, D.C., to face the Redskins (1 p.m.) on Dec. 11, while the Colts visit the Ravens that day. Also, Patriots followers will be watching Monday to see if the Dec. 18 game at Denver will remain a 4:15 p.m. start or be flexed to prime time.