FOXBORO — Literally one play into the Colts first offensive series, the die was cast.
Sam Ehlinger, making his second NFL start, knew right away he was going to be hunted and hounded all afternoon.
And so did the Patriots.
When Matthew Judon tore in on a stunt behind Lawrence Guy, and whipped Ehlinger down on his back side not long after he dropped back to throw, that set the tone for the Patriots defense.
Judon got to the quarterback, and with a wave of his hand across his face after the play, that triggered the rest of the unit to follow suit.
And did they ever. The Patriots brought down Ehilinger nine times during the 26-3 win over the Colts at Gillette Stadium. Judon and Josh Uche each had three sacks, with Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan notching one, with Jahlani Tavai and Deatrich Wise sharing a sack.
Uche, who had as many sacks against the Colts as he had all of last season, called Judon the tone-setter and catalyst for all of the damage inflicted on the Colts offense on Sunday.
“We definitely feed off each other’s energy,” said Uche, “and when you have a guy like Judon, everyone’s just getting in on the fun and we just feed off of it you know because now there’s blood in the water so now you know, it’s time to hunt.”
The sentiment was pretty much unanimous around the room. The players take their cues from Judon, who came out of the gate firing at the quarterback, landing one takedown after another.
“He’s a very electrifying player. Once he gets in the game and he does what he does, the crowd goes crazy, the juices start pumping and everybody just gets after it,” Wise said of Judon’s impact. “Once he makes his play, you can see the morale of the team is building, the confidence of the team rising, our defense getting better and better, playing with more confidence, playing faster. He’s one hell of a player.”
Judon’s three sacks upped his total to 11.5 sacks after nine games, which puts him up top with the rest of the NFL’s pass rushing elite.
Last year, he had nine sacks after nine games, so he’s upped the pace. And given all the work he did in the offseason to try and assure he won’t run out of gas toward the end of the year, which was the case last season, he’s on pace to have a monster season throughout.
“My teammates go out there, put me in great situations to execute. My coaches call good calls. I’m just willing to do whatever I need to do for our defense to have success,” said Judon. “Whatever that is, however it looks and however I need to play, I’m willing to do it. Today it was just one of those games.”
Along with the three sacks, Judon also had six tackles including three for a loss, and four quarterback hits.
Uche wasn’t the least bit surprised by the performance.
“This is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen in my life so it’s an honor to be able to learn from him and watch his game each and every day,” Uche said of Judon. “I have him give me advice too, so it’s definitely good.”
The defense as whole was dominant. The Colts were 0-for-14 on third down. And 0-for-2 in the red zone.
Coupled with the nine sacks, that’s about as good as a defense can get.
Both Judon and Devin McCourty talked about the importance of having a pass rush combined with coverage. With the secondary doing the job in the back end, that gave more time for the pass rush to score.
In Judon’s case, though, it sure seemed like he was on top of Ehlinger before the Colts quarterback could look down field, much less blink.
Judon, however, was sure to give the secondary some props.
“I believe that the secondary covered their butts off today. It was a lot of coverage sacks,” he said. “We just have to continue to feed off that energy and each other. No matter down and distance, where we go out there on the field, the situation we’re put in, it’s our job to get the ball back. It’s our job to stop the opposing offense.
“When we do that, we just roll, we just roll. We’ve seen it in a couple other games and today we had it.”