All week long, I was telling anyone who'd listen that the Patriots game plan against Indy needed to be identical to the one they used against Buffalo in the regular season finale two weeks ago.
The conditions would dictate it, both the weather and the opponent. An unrelenting rain would soak the field, meaning throwing a lot would be problematic. The Patriots needed to run the ball early and often, get a quick lead on the stubborn Colts, and never look back.
That's exactly how it unfolded.
An Alfonzo Denanrd INT of Andrew Luck on the game's third play set up the first of LeGarrette Blount's team record four touchdown runs. Blount wound up carrying 24 times for 166 yards and those four scores, including a 73-yarder in the fourth quarter. Stevan Ridley, in a backup role, added 52 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns, making Tom Brady almost irrelevant (13 completions for 198 yards and no TD tosses).
The 166 total on the ground for Blount tied a franchise record for most rushing yards in a playoff game, previously set by Curtis Martin. Blount actually broke the record with 169 yards, but his last carry of the night lost three yards, putting his net total back down to 166.
"That's what we go into the game thinking, that we're the more physical team no matter who we're playing," Blount asserted. "That's how we practice, how we play. The game plan was to be more physical than the other team. Indianapolis is a great team. You saw what they did last week, coming from 28 points down, rallied and won. So, we had to be physical and keep our foot on the pedal."
Indy kept it close through three quarters, but the New England ground game eventually ran away with the game.
And now, it's on to a third straight AFC Championship Game for the Patriots – opponent and location to be determined by the outcome of Sunday afternoon's San Diego-Denver tilt at Mile High.
"It's definitely hard to get to the AFC Championship game. It's a long road," defensive end/co-captain Rob Ninkovich remarked. "You think back on when you start the offseason. For me, I've played in all these games and it means a lot to me because last year I think of how hard I worked to get to an AFC Championship and then when you lose, it hurts. For me, I'm like, 'I'm going to work out, I'm getting back in the offseason, I'm going to training camp, just to get back to that same point.'
"There are a lot of games you have to win and a lot of great things you have to do on the football field to get to that point. We definitely have to take advantage of our opportunity here and just do like we always do and that's put in all the work. That starts tomorrow."
"Well that's the good thing about football – you still have to play the games," left guard/co-captain Logan Mankins observed. "Any Sunday, any team can win and if you have guys that play to their role and do their job the right way, no matter who it is, you have a good chance to win. That's the good thing about the players on this team, they do their jobs. They take pride in doing what they're supposed to, and when they do it right, we have outcomes like tonight. If we keep doing that we have a good chance."
"It's special. Every year it's special," noted special teams co-captain Matthew Slater, "but this year we've been through so much – with the injuries, it seems like every week a key cog has gone down. And we've just found a way to rally around one another and continue to play hard and compete. We've got great leadership on this team and obviously we've got one of the best coaches [Bill Belichick] to ever do it. So it's just special."
But for now, the Patriots can do nothing but sit, wait, and watch. A Broncos win and the Patriots head west; a Chargers upset and San Diego visits Gillette next Sunday at 3 p.m.
"I'll watch," Mankins declared. "We're going to be playing either one of them, so I might as well start getting a little scouting report on them. So, I'm sure most of the guys will be watching and we'll fire it back up Monday once we know who we're playing."