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Pats Cruise, Lose Gronk

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Rob Gronkowski (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

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By HOWARD ULMAN
AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ Alfonzo Dennard watched himself on the
video board as he raced 87 yards with an interception for a
touchdown. He wanted to see if the star rookie who threw the pass
might catch him.

The way the New England Patriots were playing _ with their usual
strong offense, big plays on defense and a touchdown on a punt
return _ there was no way Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts
could overtake them.

The Patriots, the NFL’s highest-scoring team, equaled their
single-game scoring record for points with a 59-24 win on Sunday.

“The coaches want us to play aggressive,” said Dennard, whose
touchdown made it 45-17. “So that’s what I was doing out there.”

The first matchup between three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady
and star rookie Luck was no match. Brady threw three touchdown
passes. Luck threw three interceptions.

“They’re good enough,” Luck said. “They don’t need those
gifts, but to their credit, they created those and we didn’t.”

They may need them more after tight end Rob Gronkowski left the
field with what the Patriots said was an arm injury with about four
minutes left in the game. Comcast SportsNet New England reported
X-rays showed Gronkowski had a broken arm. Neither the team nor
Comcast SportsNet specified which arm was hurt.

Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes Sunday, giving him seven
touchdown receptions in his last four games and 10 for the season.
He finished the game with seven catches for 137 yards, The
Patriots’ other valuable tight end Aaron Hernandez missed his third
straight game and sixth overall after spraining his right ankle.

The Patriots’ much-maligned pass defense finally made major
contributions as newcomer Aqib Talib returned another interception
for a touchdown, covering 59 yards. And Rob Ninkovich’s fifth
forced fumble of the season _ knocking the ball out of Luck’s hand
_ set up Gronkowski’s second scoring grab on the next play.

“We knew we couldn’t come here and turn the football over and
have a chance to win,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said.
“We’ve got a lot of rookies out there so every week is a learning
experience. It was a bad learning experience.”

The Patriots (7-3) won their fourth straight game and extended
their lead in the AFC East to three games over the other three
teams. The Colts (6-4) had their four-game winning streak stopped
by the NFL’s best offense and one of its worst defenses.

Now New England must hurry to prepare for its Thanksgiving night
meeting with the Jets (4-6). New York ended a three-game slide with
a 27-13 win over the St. Louis Rams.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere (near) where we need to be at
this point,” Brady said.

For the Patriots, Sunday’s win was their most complete in a
season in which they’ve averaged 35.8 points per game and lost
their three games by a combined margin of four points.

The 59 points equals the team mark set in a 59-0 win over the
Tennessee Titans on Oct. 18, 2009.

The Patriots also scored on a 68-yard punt return by Julian
Edelman three plays before Talib gave the Patriots the lead for
good, 21-14.

“I don’t think guys panicked” after that one-two punch, Luck
said. “Playing hard is not enough, as evidenced tonight.”

Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and no
interceptions. Luck was 27 for 50 for two touchdowns and 334 yards
and set an NFL record as the first rookie with five 300-yard games.

The Colts were competitive for one half. The Patriots led 24-17
heading into the third quarter.

Then the Patriots scored on passes of 2 yards to Edelman and 24
yards to Gronkowski and Dennard’s interception return.

Luck followed with a 43-yard scoring pass to T.Y. Hilton, the
second of the game to the fellow rookie, But the Patriots responded
with touchdown runs of 3 yards by Stevan Ridley and 4 yards by
Shane Vereen.

The game began with touchdowns on the first three series: a
1-yard run by Delone Carter of the Colts, a 4-yard pass from Brady
to Gronkowski, and a 14-yard pass from Luck to Hilton.

Stephen Gostkowski then missed a 36-yard field goal attempt for
the Patriots.

But their fortunes changed four plays later. Edelman brought a
punt back for a touchdown for the third time in his career after
the defense forced Luck into a three-and-out. And just three plays
and 61 seconds after that, the Patriots scored on Talib’s touchdown
to take the lead.

The catch was an easy one _ Luck threw the ball high over Reggie
Wayne’s head _ but the run was exceptional as Talib cut from the
right side of the field to the left, eluding numerous Colts.

The Patriots obtained Talib from Tampa Bay before last Sunday’s
37-31 win over Buffalo. But he sat that one out to complete a
four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on
performance-enhancing substances.

“A lot of plays motivated the defense,” Talib said. “About
that third or fourth (Colts) series, we kind of got into it. It was
kind of quiet out there early (then) we started talking.”

Former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri, booed often in a stadium
where he once was adored, cut the lead to 21-17 on a 47-yard field
goal 5:46 before intermission.

Notes: The Patriots are 18-0 in the second half of the season
starting in 2010. … Luck broke Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record
with his fifth game of at least 300 yards passing. … Wes Welker
stretched his streak to 104 games with at least one reception. …
Reggie Wayne tied Cris Carter’s NFL mark with 58 consecutive games
with at least three catches. … Colts WR Donnie Avery left the
game with a concussion. Arians had no update after the game.
___
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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