|01.12.14 at 6:35 am ET|
FOXBORO — One of Bill Belichick‘s strengths as a coach is that he rarely lets one opposing player beat his team, devising a game plan to take that particular player out of the game.
That is exactly what the Patriots did to Colts star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on Saturday night after he caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season and then hauled in 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Chiefs on wild card weekend.
Although he caught four passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in the game, a large chunk came on a 46-yard completion. Overall the Patriots defense, particularly Aqib Talib, did an outstanding job of taking the star Colts receiver out of the game.
“[Aqib] gets paid, too. He made some plays and I made some plays,” Hilton said. “That was a better team today. I saw the whole book, I saw double, triple and no single and that was the game plan to take me out of the game. We have to step up and unfortunately we didn’t come up with a W. I knew coming in they were going to throw the book at me and I knew the coverages they were going to throw at me.”
After Colts quarterback Andrew Luck torched the Chiefs last weekend for 443 yards and four touchdowns in the air (making up for three interceptions), the Patriots forced Luck into a career-high four interceptions, paving the way for New England to move on to its eighth AFC championship game in 13 years.
“They do a good job of disrupting your timing and rhythm and getting hands on guys,” Luck said. “[They] have a good relentless pass rush and I thought our offensive linemen did a great job this game giving time to get balls out. They do a good job of disrupting things if you could capsulate it in one sentence.”
Winning the turnover battle is important in every game, but it becomes even more important in the postseason, especially if you’re the Patriots.
Prior to Saturday, since 1970, in the postseason the Patriots were 16-1 in games with a positive turnover ratio. The streak continued Saturday night as the Patriots forced four Colts turnovers en route to their 43-22 win with key mistakes by the Colts offense being one of the biggest reasons why.
|01.12.14 at 3:14 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots’ next-man-up attitude has been a constant theme with this year’s team, and it couldn’t have been exemplified better than Saturday night with the play of linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
With starting linebackers Jerod Mayo on injured reserve since mid-Oct. and Brandon Spikes being added to that list earlier in the week, the Patriots entered the game very thin at the linebacker position. But, as has been the case with the team all year, players have stepped in and filled the role, with Saturday night it being Hightower and Collins.
Both players played every defensive snap in the 43-22 win over the Colts with Hightower leading the team with eight tackles and an interception, followed by Collins who had six tackles, including two for losses, while adding an interception of his own.
Collins, a rookie drafted in the second round out of Southern Mississippi, played in all 16 regular season games, but didn’t really start to see much playing time until late November when he had 10 tackles against the Broncos.
“If you watch, [Collins] has been getting better week by week,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “That’s what it’s about. Our young guys have worked their butts off all year and there’s cash in that now. All that work that they’ve put in is showing up now and I’m happy for them. I think he has a lot more big games in him and we’ve got to keep it rolling.”
Collins was all over the field Saturday night whether it was lining up on the outside opposite an Indianapolis receiver, thrashing the gap hard up the middle to stop the run, or hitting Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a team-high three times and sacking him once — the 23-year-old was making plays.
“First of all, he’s worked very hard,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been very dependable and durable. He hasn’t missed anything all year. He started out playing ‘ not started out but he’s playing outside linebacker in regular, he plays off the line in some regular, he plays nickel linebacker. As you saw today, he’s out there split out tight end covering them on fade patterns and blitzing up the middle and he’s making tackles in line.
“I think he’s pretty comfortable wherever he is, whether he’s in line taking blockers or blitzing, or covering tight ends from in close. He’s a very versatile athlete that’s smart, works hard, really has a great team attitude. I love having him on our team.”
|01.12.14 at 3:11 am ET|
FOXBORO — No one in sports is more outspoken than Charles Barkley.
On Saturday night, following a 43-22 Patriots win over the Colts at Gillette Stadium, he showed again why that is while inside the Patriots locker room.
Barkley was the guest of owner Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick and the former NBA star was visiting with LeGarrette Blount, the star running back who attended a football camp at Barkley’s alma mater of Auburn University before going onto stardom at the University of Oregon.
But it wasn’t Blount’s four touchdown performance that got Barkley all fired up. No, Barkley got all fired up when reporters started asking him about the job Kraft and Belichick have done.
“Every year, they have a chance to win. That’s pretty cool,” Barkley began.
Is he a Patriots fan?
“No, no. Bill is my friend. Mr. Kraft is my friend,” Barkley continued. “But I was just making a point. In sports, if I’m a fan, I want my team to have a chance to win. That’s all I want. In 99 percent of the cities in every other sport, not just football, your team sucks. You have no chance of winning. The Patriots have a legitimate shot of winning every year. That’s pretty cool.
“It bothers me, it bothers me that y’all don’t appreciate them having a chance to win every year.”
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, a hall of fame basketball columnist who knows Barkley very well, challenged Barkley, “How do you know we don’t appreciate it?”
Barkley didn’t hesitate.
“Y’all don’t. Y’all don’t. Unfortunately, because of the Internet and [crap] like that, you all win the championship or you don’t.
“In New England, y’all have a chance to win every year. I’m impressed with the Patriots organization because they’ve lost so many people and y’all take winning for granted. Y’all do.
That’s something that many assume New England fans already know. Not Barkley.
“No, you all don’t know that,” he said. “You all don’t know that. You all do take it for granted. You all think, ‘We have to win the Super Bowl or the season sucks.’ You all do [take it for granted].”
|01.12.14 at 2:31 am ET|
|01.12.14 at 2:13 am ET|
FOXBORO — LeGarrette Blount isn’t going to question what’s working.
On Saturday night, he continued his red-hot running that he showed in the final five weeks of the regular season, when he rushed for nearly 600 yards and nine touchdowns in the final month.
On Saturday night, he nearly matched half that touchdown total in his first career playoff game. Blount ran it into the end zone four times, surpassing Curtis Martin‘s three touchdowns of Jan. 1997 against the Steelers, and just one shy of the NFL record set by Ricky Watters for the 49ers on Jan. 15, 1994 against the Giants.
Blount led a team effort that totaled six rushing touchdowns, with the other two coming from Stevan Ridley. The six rushing touchdowns was just one shy of the seven by the Bears against the Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship, won by Chicago, 73-0.
‘That’s what we go into the game thinking,” Blount said. “We feel like we’re the most physical team no matter who we play, and that’s how we practice, that’s how we play, and that’s our mindset.
‘We didn’t know that we [were] going to be able to dominate, but we came in, our game plan was to play tough and play physical and go out there and get a win by any means necessary, and if we weren’t able to run the ball, we always got No. 12 that’s going to put the team on his back and do great things like he’s always done in his whole career,” Blount said.
That No. 12 happens to be Tom Brady, who didn’t throw a single touchdown pass for just the fourth time in his NFL postseason career. The Patriots have won all four.
‘If you would have told me before the game, I would not have believed it at all,” Blount said.
Blount sealed the win with a 73-yard breakaway early in the fourth quarter that put the Patriots up, 36-22. He was looking at the video board while Logan Mankins raised his right hand immediately in triumph as soon as Blount broke free in the secondary.
‘I didn’t look at the big screen until I got free,” Blount said. “I looked at it to see if anybody was close to catching me, and they weren’t, and the rest is history.’
|01.12.14 at 2:13 am ET|
FOXBORO — Home games following a first-round bye have been very kind to Tom Brady in the past as he’s averaged 275 yards passing and thrown 16 touchdowns with three interceptions over those seven games. Saturday night was a different story as the Patriots rushed for a franchise-record (regular or postseason) six touchdowns in their 43-22 win over the Colts at a rainy and damp Gillette Stadium.
“That was amazing,” Brady said. “We keep handing it off and those guys just run so hard and do a great job running and finding the holes where they can just slice through there and gain as many yards as they can. It was pretty cool.”
The six rushing touchdowns were the second-most in NFL playoff history behind the Chicago Bears in 1940 when they rushed for seven against Washington.
Brady finished the game 13-for-25 with 198 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. It was only the fourth time in his career where he didn’t throw a touchdown pass in a playoff game and just the second since the AFC Championship Game in 2001.
Despite not putting up eye-popping numbers, that didn’t matter to the 36-year-old as it’s all about winning and moving on to the next week.
“It was good. We keep playing like that, the way our defense has been getting the ball for us, and really what we’ve done the last three or four weeks, running the ball has just been awesome,” Brady said. “It’s helped everything out and it does make it easy when you hand it off and it goes 70 yards for a touchdown. That’s a great feeling and a great way to score. Hopefully we keep doing it, hopefully we can do it next week too.”
Even though he threw for less than 200 yards, Brady did break a few records in the game as he eclipsed the 6,000 yard passing mark in the postseason, becoming the first player in NFL history to do so. Currently he has 6,147 passing yards in the playoffs over the course of his career.
|01.12.14 at 1:14 am ET|
FOXBORO — With the Patriots holding a 21-10 lead with 2:18 remaining in the first half the Patriots were set to punt at midfield when long-snapper Danny Aiken‘s snap went over the head of punter Ryan Allen and all hell broke loose.
The ball sailed all the way back inside the Patriots five-yard line and when the rookie punter scooped up the loose ball he tried to make a play by lateraling the ball, but it went out of the end zone resulting in a safety and Allen taking a bone-crunching hit by a few Colts special teamers.
Allen punted the ensuing free kick, but then held onto his shoulder walking off the field. After some medical attention on the sideline he retreated to the locker room and did not return with what the team called a shoulder injury. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski took over as punter and Tom Brady as the place-holder.
“Ryan was getting checked out after the safety punt and he went in to see the doctors and they said you’re up,” Gostkowski said. “I didn’t really panic and when everyone else around you can stay calm it makes it easier for you to stay calm.”
Even though it was Gostkowski’s first time punting in a game at any level over the course of his career, even back to high school, you wouldn’t have known it as of his five punts two went inside the 20-yard line and he averaged 41.8 yards per kick, including a long of 53.
“I can never prepare for something like that, it’s just something that happened,” Gostkowski said. “It’s unfortunate that Ryan couldn’t return. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and hopefully he’s OK. He’s done such a great job this year and just an unfortunate set of circumstances that I was lucky enough to do a good job and help the team win. It’s hard to have too much fun when my compadre was sidelined with an injury, but it’s about as fun as I can have with not kicking field goals.”
Losing their punter and holder in the middle of a playoff game could have been deadly for the Patriots, but their ability to remain calm in a situation like that was one of their keys to victory Saturday night.
“It’s a lot different,” Gostkowski said of punting instead of place-kicking. “I was really worried about just catching it and getting it off. That was the first time I’ve ever punted in a game in my life so it was a challenge and luckily I didn’t let it get me nervous. I felt comfortable out there, I don’t know how. I think getting off a good first punt helped too and I just didn’t try to do too much.”
Allen had a very impressive rookie season averaging 44.5 yards per punt and pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line 28 times.
If Allen is unable to play in next week’s AFC Championship the Patriots will need to sign a punter.
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