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Patriots corral the Colts, 43-22

Sunday, January 12, 2014

 

A little rain, a little thunder, a little lightning? Good thing it wasn't a little bit colder in Foxboro Saturday night.

The weather conditions were certainly slippery, but the Colts' grasp on their season was a bit slipperier than the field. Big plays by the New England offense were complimented by some big plays from the defense as well, leading the Patriots to a 43-22 win over Indianapolis Saturday night in the AFC Divisional playoff at Gillette Stadium

It didn't take long for the Patriots to kick start their night.  On the 3rd play from scrimmage after taking the opening kickoff, Andrew Luck and the Colts faced 3rd and two from their own 28 yard line, when a sideline pass intended for LaVon Brazill was picked off by Alfonzo Dennard and returned 27 yards to the Indy two.  From there, it took just one play - LeGarrette Blount pounding the ball in from the two to give NE a very quick 7-0 advantage.

And after a three-and-out performance from the defense on the next Indy possession, the offense showed it could grind out a drive as well...moving 74 yards in 10 plays, with two big grabs along the way from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola setting up Blount for another score.  A second two-yard TD run put the Pats up 14-0 with 7:17 still to play in the opening quarter.

But you had to know this wouldn't be a quick night of work for New England. Luck brought his Colts right back into it with a seven play, 80 yard drive, capped off by a 38-yard scoring strike to Brazill for a 14-7 score. 

Holding possession of the ball at the start of the 2nd quarter, Tom Brady methodically moved the offense into position to strike again.  Two completions to Edelman for 27 and 13 yards put the Pats at the Colts' 25, where Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and then finally Blount finished it off from there...with Blount getting the last two yards for his 3rd TD of the night and a 21-7 lead with 10:54 remaining in the period.

That kind of a deficit might concern most teams, but then again these are the Indianapolis Colts, who came from 28 points down in the 3rd quarter last week against Kansas City to win.  Luck drove the Colts to the NE 18 and overshot T.Y. Hilton on a 3rd down attempt, leaving Adam Vinatieri to clean things up with a 36 yards field goal for a 21-10 score and 5:35 still to play before the half.

Then, a mini-disaster struck.  On a 4th down punt attempt from their 44, long snapper Danny Aiken sent the ball sailing over the head of punter Ryan Allen, who tried to retrieve the ball back at the Patriots' three yard line.  Instead, he fumbled the ball backwards through the end zone, which resulted in a safety for the Colts to bring the score to 21-12.  But as Indy attempted to push the ball downfield for another score, a pass intended for Stanley Havili was picked off by Dont'a Hightower as Havili slipped on the turf. 

After a three-and-out for the offense on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, the Patriot defense was put to the test out of the second half gate by Luck and the Colts.  Indy had a 1st and goal at the NE four before the defense stiffened and forced Vinatieri to make good on a 21-yard field goal for a 21-15 game with 10:03 left in the quarter.  Needing a spark, Brady delivered a strike instead, firing a 53-yard missile to Amendola on the first play after the kickoff.  The completion was followed by a third down catch and a pass interference call, both coming on Edelman playcalls, setting up a Ridley TD run and subsequent two-point conversion run.

The big plays put the Pats up 29-15, with 6:18 to go in the 3rd. 

There were more big plays to come, however.  Showing off his tremendous arm strength under a rush, it took Luck and the Colts 1:17 to find the end zone again, with completions to Hilton for 46 yards, and to Brazill for 35 yards and the touchdown to make it 29-22.  Then all of a sudden, the scoring stopped.  Both teams recorded two straight three-and-out possessions, leaving NE with the ball at their 27 with just over 13 minutes left.

And then...Boom.  Blount (24 carries, 166 yards - a New England playoff record) bounced through a huge hole on the offensive line and rumbled 73 yards for a touchdown - his 4th of the game, a New England playoff record - to put the Patriots on top 36-22.  On the next Indy play...boom again.  Jamie Collins stepped in front of a Luck pass intended for Coby Fleener and returned it to the Colts' 18.  After finding ex-Colt Austin Collie on a 3rd-and-10 conversion catch for 15 yards, two plays later Ridley ran it in for his second score of the game and a 43-22 margin.  

The clock still had 11:12 left.  Could Indianapolis come all the way back from a 20-point-plus second half deficit for a second straight week?

Not this time.  A second Dennard interception, and fourth of the game for Luck, sealed the deal late.  Neither the wind, nor rain, nor dark of night, kept these Patriots from an appointment in the AFC Championship game for a third straight season.

Post Game Notes

LeGarrette Blount's 73 Yard rush TD is the 2nd-longest rush TD in Patriots postseason history. The longest was a 78-yard rush TD by Curtis Martin in the 1996 Divisional Playoffs vs the Steelers...Blount is also the first player since Chris Johnson in 2009 (Weeks 8-10) to have at least 2 rush TD in 3 straight games (including postseason)...and, Blount is the 2nd Patriots player with 2 rush TD in a playoff game (he finished with four). The other was Martin, who had 3 against the Steelers in the 1996 postseason...the Patriots played their ninth consecutive playoff game at home Saturday against the Colts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that will extend the second-longest streak of home playoff games in NFL history.If the Patriots and Chargers both win this weekend, New England would host the AFC Championship Game and tie the Dolphins for the most consecutive playoff games at home in league history (10)...with the win, Bill Belichick ties Don Shula for 3rd in career playoff wins with 19...the win also puts New England in a 3rd straight AFC title game next weekend...

 

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