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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Patriots Run Over Colts En Route to Their 3rd Straight AFC Championship Game

(30 for 30 voice) What if I told you that the Tom Brady would go 13 of 25 for 198 yards and zero TDs but the Patriots would beat the Colts 43-22 at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Divisional Round? The seemingly impossible actually happened tonight as New England rode a team-record six rushing touchdowns (4 from LeGarrette Blount and 2 from Stevan Ridley) along with four interceptions of Andrew Luck to their third AFC Championship Game in a row and eighth in the past 13 seasons.

The Pats host the Chargers if they upset the Broncos in Denver tomorrow. If the Broncos win, New England heads to Mile High for a super hyped game between Brady and some guy named Peyton Manning. Despite the fact that Indy only trailed 29-22 heading into the fourth quarter, we never really sweated this one out since Luck had too many turnovers and more importantly, the Colts defense is atrocious (in two playoff games this season they allowed a combined 87 points).

Blount (24 carries, team-record 166 yards) showed that the last few weeks of the regular season weren't a fluke. It was also nice to see Ridley (14 carries, 52 yards) chip in. The problem with New England's passing game is that it only really has two legitimate targets: Julian Edelman (6 catches, 84 yards) and Danny Amendola (3 catches, 77 yards). Aaron Dobson (foot) missed the game and Kenbrell Thompkins only had one target and no catches (plus he might have picked up a concussion on that one play). Depending on who they play next Sunday (3, CBS), the Patriots have to find a way to squeeze more out of their receivers cause you have to figure Blount will be their main focus defensively.

On the third play of the game, Luck (20 of 41, 331 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) threw nearly a pick-6 to Alfonzo Dennard who returned it to the 2. The next play was a two-yard TD run by Blount. He did the same thing a little more than six minutes later for a 14-0 Patriots lead. Playing from behind for the second week in a row against a smarter and better coached team was too much for Luck.

Granted, he made some sick throws like the 38-yard pass to LaVon Brazill that put the Colts on the board. Another 2-yard TD run by Blount made it 21-7 Patriots before Indy got a 36-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri and a safety on a bad snap to punter Ryan Allen (who also hurt his shoulder on the play). New England only led 21-12 at halftime.

A 21-yard field goal by Vinatieri was as close as Indianapolis would get (21-15). Ridley had a 3-yard TD run and 2-point conversion. Brazill's only other catch was a 35-yard touchdown (at least he makes them count). The fourth quarter belonged to the Pats and their offensive line. Blount ran for a 73-yard TD and Ridley capped it off with a 1-yard TD run.

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins (6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 tackles for loss, pass deflected, 3 quarterback hits) hadn't done anything during the regular season but in his playoff debut, the second-round pick out of Southern Mississippi was the star of New England's resilient defense. Donta' Hightower (8 tackles, 3 solo, 1 pass deflected, 1 interception) had been bashed all season for all his obvious flaws but he was great in this one. To show you how few plays that he's made in two seasons, that pick was the first of his career. Dennard wrapped it up with his second interception.

We know that the Patriots in many ways are lucky to be one of the final four teams left in the NFL but at the same time, you have to marvel at their resilience through all the major injuries. No matter if it's the Broncos or Chargers, New England will have to take its game to another level and improve in many departments. Clearly, we'd prefer San Diego to win tomorrow since that would mean the Pats only need another win at Gillette to get to the Super Bowl. However, Denver is a tougher opponent on paper (keep in mind New England already beat them this season) but there is something to be said for going into Denver and knocking them off.

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