FOXBOROUGH –** Just like old times, eh?
Every time the Patriots have faced Andrew Luck, either here in Foxborough or out in Indianapolis, New England dominated on the scoreboard.
But never this badly!
Luck and the Colts were far more competitive in the three previous encounters. They at least scored double digits in those games. And Luck was coming off the biggest win of his career a week earlier, having exorcised the ghost of Peyton Manning with a gritty win in Denver.
Maybe the Colts should have followed Xavier Nixon's lead. Indy's backup offensive lineman missed the team's charter flight to New England and was declared inactive. The rest of his teammates barely showed up, either.
The New England Patriots take on the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, January 18, 2015.
This AFC Championship felt a lot more like another one against Indy.
Back when Manning was still the leader of the Colts.
Back when Ty Law was picking him off at will and the juggernaut Colts offense was being stifled by a stingy New England defense. If 20-3 felt like a blowout back then, in snowy conditions, it felt doubly so Sunday night in the wet Foxborough weather.
And when it rains, it pours… if you're a Colts fan in this rivalry, that is.
The telltale signs manifested themselves early. Luck was throwing the ball with as much precision as Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham." And when Darrelle Revis intercepted Luck in the third quarter, many of us had to do a double-take, because he looked exactly like Law getting the better of Manning. The way he looked in his uniform, the way he cradled the ball – it was uncanny.
To be fair, the Colts did make a game of it in the second quarter. After halftime, however, the rains started falling harder, and the Patriots kept grinding out yards on the ground – just like they did in Week 11 at Indy, and last year against the Colts in the playoffs, and way back when Corey Dillon was stampeding all over them.
Gillette Stadium's sold-out crowd was so overjoyed back in the old days that it gave rise to one of the most spontaneous demonstrations of emotion ever seen.
The snow fireworks.
In the last two wins, over Baltimore and Indianapolis, the nearly 70,000 fans were jumping up and down so enthusiastically that they gave birth to a new phenomenon.
A shaking press box.
The fans seemed to take their lead from their quarterback.
Tom Brady, his hair matted and glistening from raindrops, became uncontrollably ecstatic on the sideline, hollering and giving hard high-fives to everyone in sight. Because perhaps this season means more to him and to this team and its fans. He heard all those critics after the first month of the season, when it seemed the 2014 Patriots were headed anywhere but the desert southwest on February 1.
Those critics were speaking directly to him. He was being blamed for his team's lackluster start, even though it was more than his struggles at the time that were the cause. Turning things around took long, hard work, and Sunday night, while Luck was playing the role of one former Tim Robbins movie character, Brady, in the pouring rain, was playing another, decidedly different one: Andy Dufresne in "The Shawshank Redemption."
Perhaps, too, the losses in recent AFC Championships and Super Bowls makes this latest appearance even sweeter.
And perhaps, even though he likes to say he wants to play forever, Brady knows that this could be the last go-round in the biggest of football games. It must cross his mind that it's been a decade since his last Super Bowl win, and that another one at this late stage of his career would make a wonderful bookend.
And who better to face than Seattle?
Both teams were the top seeds in their respective conferences.
Seattle's coach, Pete Carroll, was the man Bill Belichick succeeded here in New England. The Seahawks are defending Super Bowl champions after having rolled over Manning's Broncos last season. It's East Coast versus West Coast, Mr. Serious versus Mr. Fun, the upstart QB, Russell Wilson, versus the future Hall of Fame veteran, Brady.
Fittingly, the game will be held in Arizona, where the Patriots let slip away what would have been only the second undefeated season in NFL history, and the first-ever 19-0 season. The mise-en-scène couldn't be more appropriate.
It's going to be quite a Super Bowl.
Just like old times here in New England.
Maybe even better.