Jim Harbaugh walked out of the trainer's room after his Indianapolis Colts had been beaten by the New England Patriots, 27-9, and you checked his features to see just how much damage had been done. Nasty bruise under the right eye, another one on the bridge of his nose, which was slightly off center, having been broken by the Patriots with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.
"His nose was pushed way over to one side," Colts center Kirk Lowdermilk said. "I guess they pushed it back somehow."
Harbaugh made his farewell from the RCA Dome playing field after the injury, heading back to the locker room, a towel pressed to his nose, as reserve quarterback Paul Justin ran the Colts' offense. There would be no comeback for Captain Comeback this Sunday, only a long week ahead, doing interviews that would begin, "How much more of this can you take?"
The week before, after the Baltimore Ravens nearly broke his wrist and after he felt his arm go numb at one point in the game, he had spent Sunday night in the hospital—for general rehab. The game before that, he had limped off the field after the Bills sacked him six times. "Wrist, turf toe, tendinitis in the ankle, bruised heel," Harbaugh said two days before the Pats broke his nose. "The wrist was the one that scared me. I was surprised it wasn't broken; I thought it was when I took the hit. I've had some pretty memorable beatings."
He has been sacked 14 times in the last three games. Buffalo's six on Oct. 6 are understandable because the Bills are major-league sackers. But the Ravens came into the RCA Dome with six sacks on the season, and they picked up three in the first quarter. They ended up with four for the day, and that left New England as the NFL's worst sacking team, with nine in six games. The Pats got four on Sunday.
Sacks, however, didn't decide Sunday's weird contest, which saw the Colts run off 44 first-half plays, to New England's 22, and still trail the Patriots 10-6 on the scoreboard. Fumbles, drops and special teams breakdowns were the Colts' undoing. But when a fumbled punt gave the Patriots a gift touchdown to open the second half and Harbaugh was forced to play catch-up, New England's pressure kicked in, and there was plenty of it.
"There were times when they didn't know where we were coming from," said Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest, who had two sacks plus the knockout blow that broke Harbaugh's nose.
"The first guy [end Mike Jones] yanked my face mask," Harbaugh said after the game. "The second guy [ McGinest] cleaned me up with a right cross."
"We knew coming in that they had protection problems," said rush linebacker Chris Slade, who applied constant pressure all afternoon. "Their Buffalo game was a massacre."
Well, the Colts are still tied with Buffalo for the AFC East lead, at 5-2, a game ahead of the Patriots and the Dolphins, but their quarterback is getting slaughtered, and if you're Indianapolis coach Lindy Infante, what do you do?