By: Bob George
FOXBOROUGH – If this new found ground game for the Patriots keeps up, then they could bring Larry “Wild Man” Eisenhauer and Nick Buoniconti out of retirement and let them take a few turns on defense.
The Patriots found their way to still another AFC Championship Game by throttling the Indianapolis Colts, 43-22 on a rainy Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. LeGarrette Blount once again lit up the field with 166 yards rushing, including a 73-yard touchdown gallop in the fourth quarter. The 166 yards tied Curtis Martin’s record for most rushing yards in a game; Blount at one point had 169 yards to break the record, but then lost three yards on the next play. Blount had a team playoff record four rushing touchdowns, the other three all from two yards out.
This win was somewhat thanks to Tom Brady, but this win was more about the rushers and the foot soldiers who don’t get as much run as the figurehead of the franchise. Michael Hoomanawanui had perhaps his best game as a Patriot, opening up holes for Blount and Stevan Ridley all night long. Jamie Collins had an interception of Andrew Luck, one sack and two tackles for loss, and played terrific pass defense. Alfonzo Dennard had two interceptions, nearly running the first one back for a touchdown on the third play of the game. Stephen Gostkowski had to do double duty on kicking, as Ryan Allen was injured on a fluky play in the second quarter. He had five punts for a 41.8-yard average and two punts inside the 20. Brady chipped in by holding on placekicks for Allen, and Gostkowski was perfect on extra points.
Another big night for LeGarrette Blount, who scored four touchdowns.
(USA TODAY Images)
The Patriots as a team had 46 rushes for 234 yards and a 5.1-yard average. Granted, those numbers are skewed by Blount’s long touchdown run. But all game long, the Patriots stayed committed to the run, and in the long run it helped them a great deal on a rainy night where Brady wasn’t able to engineer his optimum passing attack. The running game did set up some play action, but without Aaron Dobson and with Kenbrell Thompkins limited in his ability to contribute, Brady was not able to kill the Colts through the air as he would have liked (Brady was only 13 of 25 passing for 198 yards and no touchdowns).
If there was one weakness in the Patriot scheme of things, it was special teams. The Patriots suffered four penalties on kick/punt coverages. But the play which knocked Allen out of the game was right up there with one of the daffiest plays in the Bill Belichick era.
Facing fourth down and seven at the Patriot 44, Allen lined up in punt formation, but the ball was snapped way over his head and the ball took off towards the Patriot end zone. Allen foolishly picked up the ball at the three and tried to make a play a la Garo Yepremian, Super Bowl VII. The ball was knocked into the end zone by Jeris Pendleton and rolled out of it for a safety. Allen was lucky that a Colt didn’t pounce on the ball in the end zone. Kicking the ball out of the end zone would have been better.
On the play, Allen hurt his shoulder and did not return to the game. That is why Gostkowski had to punt and Brady had to hold for placekicks. No information on his situation was available.
The Patriot pass defense had some lapses, but part of the problem was Luck and his incredible arm. Down 14-0 in the first quarter, Luck was able to find LaVon Brazill for 38 yards and a touchdown, beating Dennard on a deep right sideline toss. Dennard was right with Brazill, but the ball was thrown perfectly over Dennard and right into Brazill’s hands. In the third quarter, Luck covered 81 yards in two plays for a touchdown. He found T.Y. Hilton along the left sideline for 46 yards, dropping a perfect pass in between Steve Gregory and Dennard. On the next play, Luck found Brazill for 35 yards and a touchdown despite again being double covered by Gregory and Devin McCourty. It was 29-22 Patriots at the time, and the game was turning into a shootout between the best now quarterback and the best future quarterback.
But the Patriots put the game away in the fourth quarter. Blount had his long run, and Ridley scored his second rushing touchdown from one yard out to complete the scoring. Ridley finished with 52 yards on 14 carries, and best of all, zero fumbles.
Luck finished 20 of 41 passing for 331 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. His passer rating was 53.0. Coby Fleener had six catches to lead the Colts, but Hilton, who was supposed to be the focal point of the Patriot defense, had 103 yards receiving. Both of Brazill’s catches went for long touchdowns, and his average per catch was 36.5.
The Patriots now await the winner of Sunday’s Denver-San Diego game. If Denver wins, the Patriots head there next Sunday. But if the Chargers win, like they did in December, the Chargers will come to Foxborough next Sunday. Baltimore was able to knock off the Broncos last year in Denver, and Peyton Manning has a history of playing poorly in playoff games, especially in first playoff games. Suffice it to say that all of Patriot Nation will be rooting fervently for San Diego to knock off Manning and the Broncos on Sunday.
Whomever the Patriots play, they might want to hope that their rushing attack stays effective as they march on towards Super Bowl XLVIII. They are now one win away from their eighth Super Bowl berth, and however they are required to get there, it could be on the broad shoulders of Blount, Ridley and Shane Vereen.
As for the Colts, this is now the second blowout loss in a row Luck has suffered at Gillette Stadium. But make no mistake, Luck is the real deal and will start winning games like this once he has more hosses on his side and he stops throwing ill advised passes at the wrong time. The game was tight until the fourth quarter, and Luck had everyone at Gillette Stadium spooked for quite some time.
But in the end, luck was with the Patriots, and that needs to continue for at least two more games.