Big plays lift Patriots' defense

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If there has been any saving grace for the New England Patriots defense this season, it has been turnovers.

The Patriots entered Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts with an NFL-best plus-16 turnover differential, and improved on that mark in their 59-24 win, forcing four turnovers.

In his debut after being acquired in a deadline-day trade, cornerback Aqib Talib intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the second quarter, returning it 59 yards for a touchdown.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard matched the feat, scoring his first career touchdown on an 87-yard interception return.

"That’s a big spark," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "Anytime we get a turnover or a takeaway, it really gets the defense going, it gets the team going. But when you can turn it into points, it kind of gives you momentum and leads you into getting another defensive stop, offense going down there and scoring another touchdown."

Both plays masked a Patriots defense that struggled off the starting gun. Luck led the Colts to touchdowns on the first two drives of the game, the first aided by a 40-yard pass interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.

Overall, Luck was 27-for-50 for 334 yards and two touchdowns, another impressive outing for an opposing quarterback against the Patriots.

But just like last season, the Patriots manage to get by on defense, despite giving up yardage like it’s nobody’s business.

"Having our defense get a lot of turnovers is one of the best things we do. Obviously there are some things that you don’t want to give up—yardage and stuff like that. But when you can lead the league in turnovers that speaks a lot for what we do on defense," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said. "We might give up a yard here or there, but when you’re turning the ball over, especially to our offense that’s going to score every time they get the ball, it just sets you up to be good in the fourth quarter.”

Ninkovich knows a thing or two about big plays. He tied a franchise record (set by Mike Vrabel in 2007) by recording his fifth strip-sack of the season in the third quarter on Sunday.

While Ninkovich has come up with timely big plays in the pass rush, linebacker Brandon Spikes has led the charge in the running game, and has four forced fumbles this season.

“When guys come out and make big plays like that, it really turns that momentum right back on our side,” McCourty said. “Usually when we’re able to do that, the offense takes advantage of it. If we get a stop or a turnover and the next time they get the ball, they try to put points on the board and it just rolls from there.”