FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- His pass was in the hands of an opponent, who was streaking down the sideline in front of him. Andrew Luck had already seen this once Sunday, and he seemed determined to head off the ignominy of another of his interceptions being returned for a touchdown. So he gave chase -- he has surprising speed -- and Luck nearly caught Alfonzo Dennard near the end of his 87-yard sprint.

But Luck dived and missed, and as he lay face down on the field, Dennard finished his jaunt, scoring the New England Patriots' second interception return for a touchdown of the day.

The moment, early in the fourth quarter, summed up the game perfectly. Luck was off. The Patriots were on. And so was the rout, with the Patriots winning 59-24.

There will surely come a time when the Colts offer a better challenge for the Patriots. They are a young team still in the midst of a makeover, with a superstar-in-the-making quarterback in Luck and a record that is far better than anyone expected, one that could make them the most unlikely playoff team.

But on Sunday, the Colts' youth, and the mistakes that usually accompany it in the NFL, ensured that any kind of passing of the torch from Tom Brady to Luck, from the pre-eminent AFC team of more than a decade to a team clearly on the rise, would wait just a little longer.

"You know, you'd like to think that we have a chance to win it if we could play it again," Luck, the former Stanford star, said. "But they whipped our butts tonight. All the credit goes to them. They were the much better team tonight."


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The Patriots (7-3) are doing what the Patriots often do when the Foxborough nights turn chilly: rounding into form as the playoffs approach, conjuring their best all-around victory against a quality opponent this season.

They scored on a punt return, on the two interceptions of Luck, on a Brady pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski one play after a fumble by Luck deep in his own territory, and on more conventional drives that stretched as long as 81 yards. The Patriots scored the most points they have this season, tying the franchise record set in a victory over Tennessee in 2009.

For the Colts, the loss was not devastating to their short-term goals, goals that perhaps only they believed feasible back in September. They dropped to 6-4, three games behind the Houston Texans in the AFC South. But thanks to the weakness of the rest of the conference, the Colts have a two-game cushion for a wild-card spot.

"Every week is a learning experience for him," interim coach Bruce Arians said of Luck. "We've got a lot of rookies out there, so every week is a learning experience. It was a bad learning experience. Two high throws cost him, you know. We need to protect just a little bit longer on the fumble. It was a lot better day than the first day Peyton Manning came up here; I was here that day."

When the Colts review this tape, they will find flashes to build around. The Colts' second touchdown came on a low Luck strike to receiver T.Y. Hilton in the back of the end zone. And in the third quarter, Luck made the kind of play he has shown a propensity for, standing up on third-and-12 through sack attempts by Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich to deliver a 16-yard pass.

But more frequent were plays like the first interception that was returned for a touchdown. Luck threw high over Reggie Wayne in the middle of the field. Wayne was wide open and Luck was not under undue pressure. It was just a terrible throw, and Aqib Talib caught the ball instead. He started to his right side, then wove across the field, completing the 59-yard return for the touchdown.

Luck threw two touchdown passes and finished with 334 passing yards, setting an NFL rookie record with his fifth 300-yard game of the season.

But he was responsible for four turnovers and the struggles of the offense only underscored the Colts' holes on defense and special teams.

Brady heard the chatter this week about Luck, and he sometimes seems to chafe at the idea of up-and-coming quarterbacks who might someday pass him. If it was his intention, Brady delivered a clear message to Luck. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns and had no interceptions.

"I think we're trying to make improvements," the San Mateo native said. "I don't think we're anywhere near where we need to be."

But they are still far ahead of most.