|Date of game: 1/11/2014
Recap: New England vs. Indianapolis
Foxboro, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns, and the New England Patriots gained their third straight spot in the AFC title game with a 43-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots are the first team since the 2001-04 Philadelphia Eagles to go to at least three consecutive conference championship games. The Pats, the No. 2 seed, will play either at Denver or host San Diego next Sunday.
Tom Brady completed 13-of-25 passes for 198 yards, but was held without a touchdown pass. The night belonged to Blount, who rumbled 73 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a two-touchdown lead. Stevan Ridley, who ran for two TDs, scored from a yard out less than two minutes later to seal the outcome in wet conditions at Gillette Stadium.
"I thought we had some balance there, production in both areas," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of his team's 234-yard rushing total and the play of Brady and his receivers.
The six rushing TDs are a franchise record for the Patriots in any game, regular season or playoffs.
"A strength of ours all season has been how our running backs have played and the way our offensive line performs," Brady said. 'Tonight weather played a little bit of a part, but to be as efficient as we have been, to get big play after big play has been great."
Andrew Luck had a pair of TD passes, but was picked off four times for the Colts, who rallied from a 28-point deficit a week prior to shock Kansas City, 45-44, in the Wild Card round.
"They did a good job of keeping us out of rhythm," said Luck, who had just nine interceptions in the regular season but threw seven picks over the two playoff contests.
Luck completed 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards, with 103 of them going to T.Y. Hilton. LaVon Brazill caught both TD passes.
"Offensively, we just couldn't get over that hump, that final hump, and we paid for it tonight," Luck said.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 21-yard field goal early in the third quarter to get the Colts within 21-15. Luck's 40-yard pass to Hilton set up the score.
Ridley, though, scored on a 3-yard run off right tackle to cap an 88-yard march. Ridley also rushed in for the 2-point conversion for a 29-15 margin with 6:18 left in the third. The big play in that drive was the first one, a 53-yard connection to Danny Amendola.
"We moved the ball; we just couldn't finish in the red area. We had to settle for some field goals and didn't score touchdowns," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "I think it was a 21-15 game and then we had them backed up. The kickoff team did a great job, we had them backed up and they went play-fake and hit us on a big play and got the thing out of there and that hurt."
Hilton's 46-yard reception on the ensuing drive was followed by a 35-yard connection from Luck to a wide-open Brazill in the middle of the end zone, with the Colts moving the ball 80 yards in just three plays.
A 58-yard punt from Pat McAfee pinned the Patriots at their 27 early in the fourth quarter, but Blount busted off right guard and rumbled into the end zone before slamming the ball to the turf. The score widened the Patriots' lead to 36-22 with 12:55 left.
Luck was then picked off by linebacker Jamie Collins, setting up the Patriots at the Indy 18. Five plays later, Ridley plunged into the end zone with 11:12 remaining.
The exclamation point came when Luck was intercepted by Alfonzo Dennard inside the final minute.
The AFC East champion Patriots scored just 79 seconds into the contest thanks to a turnover. Luck's second pass of the game, on the third play from scrimmage for the Colts, was picked off by Dennard. Luck tried to get the ball to Brazill on the left side, but Dennard ripped it away and darted down the sideline before stepping out of bounds at the 2.
On the next play, Blount scored off left tackle, following the block from James Develin.
Blount then capped a 10-play, 74-yard march with a 2-yard TD run later in the quarter, again off left tackle. Brady converted a pair of third downs, the last one in the sequence a 16-yard connection to Amendola to the Indianapolis seven. That made Brady the first player ever with over 6,000 postseason passing yards.
The Colts finally cracked the scoreboard with 4:35 left in the opening quarter on Luck's 38-yard pass to Brazill. The perfectly-thrown ball on the right side of the field, near the goal line, came immediately after Luck converted a 3rd- and-6 with a 22-yard connection to Griff Whalen.
Blount, who carried the ball 24 times, dove over the top for his third touchdown of the night, a 2-yard plunge with 10:54 left in the half, to increase the margin to 21-7. The Patriots moved 75 yards in 14 plays, taking nearly 6 1/2 minutes off the clock.
"Our game plan was to play tough and play physical," Blount said.
Vinatieri's 36-yard field goal had Indianapolis within 21-10 with 5:35 remaining in the half, and the Colts caught a big break a short time later when an errant snap over the head of New England punter Ryan Allen resulted in the ball going out of the end zone for a safety with 2:18 left in the half.
Allen tracked down the ball inside his five and had the ball jarred loose upon being tackled. Colts defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton knocked it out of the end zone.
Allen seemed to hurt his right shoulder on the play and kicker Stephen Gostkowski replaced him later in the half. The Patriots couldn't capitalize on an interception from Dont'a Hightower, and Gostkowski booted the ball 53 yards. The Colts ran just one play before the half came to a conclusion.
With Allen sidelined, Gostkowski continued to punt in the second half.Game Notes
This was the fourth postseason meeting in the last 11 years between the
teams dating back to the 2003 AFC Championship Game, when Brady and
Co. got the best of Peyton Manning's Colts by a 24-14 score at Gillette
Stadium ... The NFL record for most rushing TDs in a postseason game is seven,
set by Chicago in a 73-0 win over Washington on Dec. 8, 1940 ... This will be
the eighth conference championship game appearance for Belichick and Brady.