Happy days are here again for the Patriots, who demolished the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to clinch a berth in the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona on Feb. 1. Using a balanced offensive attack that featured a predictably heavy dose of power running from LeGarrette Blount (franchise postseason record 30 carries for 148 yards and three TDs) and the usual stifling defense against the Colts, the Pats blew the game open with a 21-point third quarter, turning a 10-point lead into a 31-point lead in barely eight minutes. Tom Brady added 226 yards passing and three touchdowns and Darrelle Revis pitched in with a back-breaking interception for the Pats, who have now outscored Indy 175-73 in their last four meetings. Here's a handful of takeaways from the Patriots' sixth AFC championship in 15 years.
1. The Colts are still no match for the Patriots - Indy managed one nice, long scoring drive in the second quarter but needed two penalties that gave them first downs and an obscene deep throw and sideline catch from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton to keep it rolling. The Pats moved the ball up and down the field at will, mixing Brady throws with punishing Blount runs. The Colts looked like they might not be up for the game from pretty early on until Brady threw a second quarter interception that led to that single scoring drive. The Pats hardly flinched, though, running off 31 unanswered points en route to the win. The Colts are a very good team but they are not ready yet and this game proved that and then some.
2. Offensive versatility on display again - Last week against the Ravens, the Pats handed the ball off zero times in the second half and Brady attempted 50 passes. Against the Colts, they ran the ball 40 times against 35 passes and gained 177 yards on the ground. Rob Gronkowski didn't catch his first pass until more than halfway through the third quarter and Brandon LaFell went catchless for the entire first half while guys like James Develin and even Nate Solder caught touchdowns. The Colts are limited enough defensively that it's easier for the Pats to spread things around on offense but the many options this team can dial up are as big a reason as any why it's headed back to Glendale.
3. The Patriots own Andrew Luck - This sort of has the feel of how Peyton Manning used to carve up the league game after game until he'd meet the Pats then completely fold during the early 2000s. Luck was horrible in this game, completing just 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards (an ungodly 3.8 yards per attempt) and two interceptions. That's good for a passer rating of 23.0 if you're counting at home. The Patriots moved people around in the defensive backfield, with only Kyle Arrington primarily sticking to one assignment (T.Y. Hilton), and Luck couldn't handle it beyond some easy throws to the middle of the field. He wasn't helped by some costly drops before the game got out of hand but at one point Luck was a ghastly 3-for-16 for 59 yards and a pick on throws traveling more than five yards. As good as Luck has been against everyone else and as promising a career as he has in front of him, he must figure out how to at least have some marginal success when facing the Pats in order to take the next step.
4. Pats still tricky - In addition to rolling out the four-man line for a few snaps again, the Pats also fooled everyone in the stadium with a perfectly executed play action pass for a touchdown to Solder, the starting left tackle. Solder played some tight end in college so it's not like he's never caught a pass before, just as former college QB Julian Edelman was more than capable of throwing a pass last week. But that didn't make the play, the timing of it and the execution any less notable. The Patriots are conducting a coaching clinic in these playoffs and somewhere, Ravens coach John Harbaugh is cursing their trickery and deception.
Solder says he blacked out as he scored. Barely remembers getting in. Hasn't stopped smiling in three minutes. pic.twitter.com/nDjRo2zai9— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) January 19, 2015
5. Six Super Bowl trips in 15 seasons is mighty impressive - Brady is the first quarterback with 20 postseason wins. Bill Belichick has more playoff wins than any other coach ever with 21 (sorry, Don Shula). And the Patriots will be playing in their eighth Super Bowl in franchise history, which ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most of all time. But the six AFC titles since 2001 stands out, especially considering there are three other near misses. Nine AFC Championship Game appearances in that stretch makes this team the most successful in the NFL in the 21st century. There isn't another team in the league that can match what the Patriots have accomplished over that span of time and that's worthy of our admiration.