Time to stop calling Colts an elite AFC team

INDIANAPOLIS -- This wasn't just a game in the middle of November for the Indianapolis Colts. It was also far from just one of 16 on the schedule, even though they tried to downplay it as just that the week leading up to the game.

It was Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. It was an opportunity for the Colts to send a message to the rest of the AFC so that they weren't to be forgotten about when talking about contending teams in the conference.

It took less than three hours Sunday night to realize the Colts are just a team that can beat up on its counterparts in the AFC South.

Super Bowl contenders?

Please, they're not even close to being mentioned in that category. You're better off checking back again around this time next year.

The Patriots continued their dominating ways over the Colts when they ran around and through them in an easy 42-20 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It's tough, especially when we lost how we did,” Colts safety Mike Adams said. "We wanted to send a message. We wanted to be like, 'Indy is a problem and we don't want to go to Indy and play there.' We obviously didn't send that message. We sent another message, one we don't like. We have to get better, and we will get better.”

Don't worry, though. The Colts will still win their division because the schedule is in their favor.

Jacksonville. Washington. Cleveland. Houston. Dallas. Tennessee.

One, maybe two losses the rest of the season, and then they can feel proud about being back-to-back AFC South champions. But it's not supposed to be about simply winning the division for Indianapolis. You can't get too excited about winning one of the worst divisions in the NFL.

This is all about progression for the Colts, which means being mentioned in the same category as the Denvers and New Englands in the conference.

Losses to the Broncos, Philadelphia and two embarrassing defeats to Pittsburgh and New England caused that progress to come to a screeching halt. So instead of a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional round, the Colts are likely looking at a home game wild-card weekend and, if they get through, a road game at New England or Denver for the second straight year.

"It stinks; it's terrible,” receiver Reggie Wayne said. "Our main objective has always been to protect our home turf. We knew it was going be a tough fight, but we let this one slip, we let this one squander. It was a terrible display as a team. But right now we still control our own destiny in the AFC South. Who knows, we may see this team again, it might be a little bit chilly.”

It's not like the Patriots put together a new, complex scheme to beat the Colts. Brady wasn't even responsible for this "butt whupping" so many players talked about. You have to believe all Belichick did was go back and watch the film from their playoff victory over the Colts last season. The only difference is they replaced LeGarrette Blount with Jonas Gray in the backfield.

Gray took advantage of the Colts' inability to stop the run to rush for 199 yards and four touchdowns on 38 attempts. The Patriots rushed for 244 yards. If you're keeping track at home, that's 478 rushing yards for New England in the past two games against Indianapolis.

"We're going to see those guys again,” linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "Guys won't forget this feeling. This wasn't us as a team. You have to give them a lot of credit. Defensively, we didn't do what we had to do to give our team a chance to win the ballgame.”