Patriots punk Colts; punch ticket to AFC Title tilt

Blount ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday night (David Silverman/NEP)
Three yards and a cloud of dust.

That weird black dust that erupts from the field turf at Gillette Stadium when a ball carrier makes a cut, the rain falling all over New England on a gloomy Saturday night having little effect on the tiny rubber tire pellets that form the base for the synthetic turf.

The New England Patriots came into their Divisional round playoff game with the Indianapolis Colts with the mindset to run the ball, counting on their new found power running game to carry the load - and it didn't really seem to matter if it wasn't picking up huge chunks of yardage, just so long as it was moving forward...

...and it was a certainty that if quarterback Tom Brady kept turning and giving the ball to LeGarrette Blount, the big man was going to break one - as seems to happen at least once a game lately - and that happened with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game, a 73 yard burst off right guard that Blount took to the house to blow open a close game, the Patriots eventually winning going away, 43-22.

With the victory, the Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the third consecutive season, and await the winner between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Denver.

A Chargers' win would bring the Title tilt to Foxborough for the third strait year, while a Broncos' victory would set up a a match between the top two seeds in the AFC next Sunday at Invesco Field in Denver.

The Patriots' 235 rushing yards were 37 more than what Tom Brady would reap through the air, and the 45 rushing attempts 20 more than came out of Brady's hand - following a recipe that has earned New England three decisive victories in a row.

For their part, the Colts were game, their defense limiting New England's running game to just 3.1 yards per carry through the first three quarters, but completely wilted in the face of New England's physical run blocking in the final frame, eventually giving up 5.2 yards per carry while being shoved around like playground sissies.

Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 331 yards on a 20 for 41, two-touchdown performance but was also picked off four times, interceptions by Dont'a Hightower and rookie Jamie Collins sandwiched between a pair of Alfonzo Dennard thefts.

Dennard started the onslaught on the third play of the game, picking off Luck at the Indianapolis 30 yard line and returning it all the way to the two, where Blount hammered his way into the end zone for the first of his four scores on the night to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead just 1:15 into the game.

After the New England defense held the Colts to a three-and-out on the ensuing series, Blount finished off a 10 play, 74 yard drive walking into the end zone from two yards out for his second score of the game and a 14-0 Patriots' lead.

Luck got the Colts on the board on their next possession, hitting receiver LaVonn Brazill for 38 yards to get Indianapolis within seven, but New England responded with another long drive, Blount taking a page out of legendary Patriots' running back Sam "Bam" Cunningham's book with a 2 yard leap over the middle of the Colts' defense to build their cushion back to 14 points.

An Adam Vinitieri field goal and a safety on an airmailed snap on a punt formation gave the Colts the final points of the half and a little momentum headed into the locker room at the break, trailing just 21-12 - but when the Patriots came back out for the second half it did so without punter Ryan Allen, who suffered a shoulder injury while attempting to make a play on the botched punt snap...

...placekicker Stephen Gostkowski handling the punting duties for the remainder of the contest and Brady assuming the role of holder on kicks - and both would be tested as the Colts asserted their will and made a run at New England in the third quarter.

Gostokowski punted after a three-and-out and Indianapolis responded with a field goal to cut the Patriots lead to one possession, then the teams traded touchdowns to close out the third, New England nursing a seven point lead heading into the final frame.

That's when Blount and the Patriots' offensive line took over the game.

Blount followed a Michael Hoomanawanui surge and a kick out block by Logan Mankins and rumbled for 73 yards for a score just into the fourth quarter, then Ridley followed up Collins' first NFL interception with the dagger, a one-yard blast that accounted for the final points.

The New England defense was as stout as one could want, holding the Colts to 69 yards in 21 carries on the ground and although the pass defense gave up over 300 yards to Luck, it was mostly his absurd accuracy on the deep ball on full display, deftly fitting balls into tight man coverage, then picking apart the zone looks to move the chains...

...the pass rush managed to sack Luck three times, and he routinely took nasty hits releasing the balls that he did manage to get away - building a close relationship with Patriots' linebacker Jamie Collins who sacked him once, nailed him as he released three other times in addition to his 4th quarter pick that left no doubt as to the outcome of the game.

New England's offensive line enjoyed another stellar performance - despite giving up two sacks and the suddenly nimble-of-foot Brady squirming out of a couple of others, the pass protection was generally workman-like, but the run blocking was nothing short of dominant, particularly down the stretch as the Patriots ran right into the teeth of the Colts' weary run defense.

The Patriots are asserting their will on both sides of the ball, their physical play overwhelming their opponents- beating them down and taking away their will, and one more effort like that will find them at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey early in February with a chance to win their fourth trophy...