By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots broke open a close game in the fourth quarter and beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 on a rainy Saturday night in Foxboro to advance to the AFC Championship Game next week playing the winner of the San Diego – Denver game.
The game will be the third conference championship in a row that the Patriots will play in and for Tom Brady, this week given the dubious distinction by the Sporting News as being the 8th best QB out of eight left in the playoffs, marks the eighth trip to a conference championship in 12 years as a starting QB.
That is a remarkable statistic of consistent excellence, In Bill Belichick’s 14 years and Brady’s 12 as the starter, this is a team that always is in competition for the Super Bowl and with an ever changing roster, speaks volumes about the pair.
For the Colts, it was a disappointing end to another very good season under coach Chuck Pagano. Andrew Luck is everything as advertised and has a tremendous future ahead of him. But in this year’s playoffs, he made too many mistakes, although his three interceptions were able to be overcome at home against Kansas City, his four on the road in New England were not.
One thing is for certain, the Colts aren’t going away and Luck who has tremendous touch on his deep ball, will certainly improve. But Saturday night’s game belonged to the Patriots.
Here are some observations from the Divisional Playoff Game:
Blount Shines In 1st Playoff Action: Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount was traded for this spring in an absolute heist by Bill Belichick from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for KR Jeff Demps. At the time it was thought that Blount would have to fight for a roster spot to make the team and his baggage might not play well in New England.
Both of those premises were quite incorrect. Blount is now the main weapon in the backfield for New England and down the stretch has become a one-man wrecking crew for the Patriots. This week’s player to watch in our “Razor’s Edge” column, Blount responded with 24 carries for 166 yards and four touchdowns as he battered, wore down and ultimately iced the game away from the Colts defense.
He put the game away with a 73 yard scamper for a touchdown that broke Indianapolis’ back. On first and 10 from the Patriots 27, the Colts were expecting a run and brought everyone but a deep safety into the box, but some excellent run blocking at the point of attack sprang Blount into the secondary. Once he broke the tackle of LaRon Landry there was nothing in his path all the way to the end zone.
Patriots Running Game a Force: The quote of the night goes to Dan Dierdorf the analyst from CBS, who retired after the game. Dierdorf a long-time announcer and Pro Football HOF offensive lineman stated in the second half, “these are not your father’s New England Patriots.”
And it is true; the Patriots under Brady’s watch have been one of the more prolific passing offenses in the NFL. But the coaches this season wanted to have a more balanced attack with a running game that can function when the elements here in New England come into play.
And the Patriots, who’ve had the label of a finesse team in recent years was the polar opposite. They were tough, physical and played with an edge on both sides of the ball that hasn’t been seen in these parts since the halcyon days of the early 2000’s.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia gets a lion’s share of the credit as his group has done a tremendous job in run blocking, especially down the stretch. Against the Colts, the Patriots pounded the ball 46 times (against only 25 passes) for 234 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. More importantly they controlled the clock for 35 minutes, limiting the time Luck and Colts offense would have to work with.
And just as importantly, the offensive line and the running game completely neutralized the Colts’ Robert Matthis. Matthis came in with 19.5 sacks and was being looked to disrupt the Patriots passing game. It never materialized and Matthis was a complete non-factor. They frequently ran right at the undersized Matthis who isn’t built to be a run stuffer.
In an era where the NFL is a “quarterback’s league”, consider this, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, the two winning quarterbacks in Saturday’s Divisional Games combined for only 22 completions yet their teams combined for 66 points. Why? The ability to run the football effectively and that can’t be overlooked for next week’s games.
Jamie Collins Shines: The Patriots uber-athletic linebacker had a tremendous impact in his first playoff action. The Patriots top draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Collins’ development started slowly this season.
Jamie Collins’ first playoff action was memorable one as the rookie had a tremendous game for the Patriots defense.
(USA TODAY Images)
Moving around the field extremely well Collins responded with a huge game for New England registering six tackles including two for a loss, a sack, three QB hits, a pass defensed and an interception.
During training camp, the coaches put a lot on his plate to see where his strengths lie and in the early going of the regular season, he saw very little action. But as the season has gone on, he’s gotten progressively more involved in the defense.
With Brandon Spikes now on IR, Collins is now a starter and in effect is no longer a rookie. He’s good enough in coverage (started college as a safety) to cover tight ends, is strong enough to stand up in run support and is fast enough to get after the quarterback.
With Spikes (FA) unlikely to return in 2014, Collins looks to be that hybrid linebacker that will be a long term starter at the position next to Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower.
Allen/Thompkins Hurt: On a bad snap during a punt near the end of the first half, long-snapper Danny Aiken sailed the ball far over Ryan Allen’s head, forcing the rookie to run all the way back to the Patriots’ two yard line.
In the ensuing scramble where the ball luckily bounced out of the end zone for a safety, Allen hurt his shoulder and was forced to leave the game. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski ably filled in as a punter and even Tom Brady got into the act, filling in as a holder on an extra point attempt.
But if Allen can’t go next week, the Patriots will have an interesting decision to make. Allen has been impressive this season, especially down the stretch with his directional punting.
Kenbrell Thompkins took a blow to the head while going down low in an attempt to catch a pass from Brady in the second half and didn’t return. It is thought he suffered a concussion. His status next week will bear monitoring as well.
With Thompkins out however, Austin Collie came in a caught a big third down pass from Brady setting the Patriots up inside the 10 yard line, that eventually turned into a Stevan Ridley touchdown.
What’s Next: The Patriots will have to wait until the winner of the Denver – San Diego game to see where the AFC Championship will be played; if Denver wins the game will be in Mile High. Should the Chargers upset the Broncos, the game would be in Gillette. Regardless the game will be played on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. next week.