The NFC Championship was one of the most stunning, jaw-dropping playoff games in recent memory. The AFC Championship, meanwhile, was not.
The New England Patriots dominated the Indianapolis Colts for 60 minutes on Sunday, leading 14-0 after the first quarter, 17-7 at halftime and 38-7 through three quarters, ultimately winning 45-7.
It was a complete and utter rout.
Is there anything the Patriots didn’t do well in this game?
“Just that costly pick by Tom Brady in the second quarter and then the 98-yard drive on which they had a couple penalties that they could have avoided,” CSN New England reporter Tom Curran said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Really, other than that, (there was nothing). T.Y Hilton had one catch for 36 yards. Donte Moncrief didn’t have a catch (and) was only targeted once. Boom Herron had 18 catches (through two playoff games and finished with) two (catches) for 11 (yards). So no, they confused Andrew Luck and made him look not ready at all for that level of a stage. And then the way they ran the ball was ridiculous.”
New England ran 40 times for 177 yards, with LeGarrette Blount running 30 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was ridiculous to see them put up those kind of numbers when the indianapolis Colts knew that’s what was coming,” Curran said.
Also ridiculous were the Patriots’ first two touchdown receptions. Rob Gronkowsi? Julian Edelman? Nope. James Develin and Nate Solder.
What was most impressive about Bill Belichick’s game plan?
“They’re two very, very different games, the way they played out,” Curran said, comparing the AFC Championship to the Patriots’ win over the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round. “But I think in this game, making sure he captured the team’s attention throughout the week despite the dominance they’ve had over them in three previous meetings, I think, is certainly noteworthy. There was every reason for this team to not take the Colts seriously and give them an opportunity to hang around. But I also think that Baltimore game was so competitive (and the Ravens) gave them everything they could handle that it kind of made it easier for him to gain their attention.”
Belichick is now 4-0 against Luck, winning each game by at least 21 points. In fact, the aggregate score is 189-73.
So much for all the early season talk that the Patriots’ window had closed. New England started 2-2 but is 12-2 ever since – and one of those losses, it is worth noting, came against Buffalo in the regular-season finale when the Patriots rested many of their starters in the second half.
Curran didn’t hesitate when asked to cite the biggest difference between New England now versus New England at the beginning the beginning of the season.
“The offensive line,” he said. “That was the only problem that existed prior to Week 4 except for some run defense in Week 4 against Kansas City. But it was completely and utterly the offensive line. There wasn’t enough time being afford to Tom Brady by any of his offensive linemen, and he wasn’t able to get to his second reads. That was causing an inordinate amount of uncertainty with him and a lack of trust. Once they were able to solidify the interior of their offensive line, then you saw players get their stride.”
The Patriots will face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1. There will of course be countless story lines leading up to the game, including a new one: the Patriots’ possible use of deflated balls in the AFC Championship. Per NFL rules, game balls must be inflated with 12.5 to 13.5 pounds of air. New England’s balls may have fallen shy of that parameter Sunday.
Curran, however, is skeptical.
“I definitely heard (about) it,” he said. “And I’m very intrigued as to how balls that were handled throughout the game and spotted by officials play-in and play-out (could be noticeably deflated). It just seems unlikely. The balls are used by both teams. They’re put in on the sidelines, and they’re well-monitored throughout the game. I think this all has to play out, but I hesitate to put too much stock in it early on here. But certainly it will be worth monitoring.”