NFL Nation: 2014 Divisional Round IND-NE

Ups and downs for the Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
11:45
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, a look at who is "up" and who is at the opposite end of the spectrum in the New England Patriots' divisional-round playoff win against the Colts:

Williams
Blount
Up
LeGarrette Blount -- Running back totals four touchdowns, including a 73-yard scoring jaunt in the fourth quarter. The four rushing touchdowns sets a franchise record as the offensive line, tight ends and fullback James Develin also get a tip of the cap for opening the holes.

Jamie Collins -- Rookie linebacker rises up to the challenge with extended opportunity after Brandon Spikes is placed on season-ending injured reserve, as Collins is all over the field.

Alfonzo Dennard/Aqib Talib -- Starting cornerbacks don't win every one-on-one challenge, but are generally up to the task as Talib lines up across from T.Y. Hilton consistently and Dennard opens the game with a big interception and ends the game with one as well.

Stephen Gostkowski -- Kicker does an admirable job filling in for injured punter Ryan Allen.

Down
Danny Aiken -- Snapper fires a delivery over the head of punter Ryan Allen in the second quarter that results in a safety.

Kyle Arrington -- Nickel cornerback is replaced by rookie Logan Ryan near the end of the second quarter after having some struggles in the slot.

Devin McCourty -- As the last line of defense, second-team All-Pro safety lets LaVon Brazill get behind him for a 35-yard touchdown.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
11:26
PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
11:26
PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few quick thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts’ 43-22 loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: Colts coach Chuck Pagano said trying to tackle Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was similar to attempting to take down a “greased pig at the county fair.” It turns out Blount was too slippery for the Colts. Blount set a Patriots playoff record when he rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns on 24 attempts Saturday. The Colts were within seven in the fourth quarter, but Blount’s 73-yard touchdown essentially iced the game for New England. The Patriots ran all over the Colts, finishing with 234 yards and six touchdowns. The 234 yards rushing were the most Indianapolis gave up all season.

Poor play by Luck: It would be easy to point the finger strictly at the defense, which gave up 419 yards. But Colts quarterback Andrew Luck continued his struggles against the Patriots. Luck threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns but he also increased his turnover total to eight -- seven interceptions and a fumble -- in two games against New England. Luck’s ability to lead the Colts back from 28 points behind in the second half against the Kansas City will be talked about for some time, but his seven interceptions in two playoff games can’t go unnoticed, either, especially when he only threw nine picks in the regular season.

Hilton steps up again: The Patriots went into the game with the intention of slowing down receiver T.Y. Hilton, Luck’s primary target. It didn’t work. Hilton had four catches for 103 yards despite being defended by cornerback Aqib Talib for most of the game. Hilton, who was thrust into the go-to role once Reggie Wayne was lost for the season in Week 7, had 17 catches for 327 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games.

Setting a record: Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri set the playoff record for most PATs when he made his first one in the first quarter. The 41-year-old Vinatieri now has 60 PATs in his playoff career. Vinatieri will likely extend that total next season, but it’s uncertain where that will happen because he’ll be a free agent.

What’s next: The season is complete.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the Colts 14-7. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Dennard picks off Luck early, Blount cashes in. From the idyllic start playbook: Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on Indianapolis' first third down of the game, returning it to the Colts' 2 yard line. The Patriots needed just one offensive play to make Luck pay, as LeGarrette Blount dove in for a score, giving the team a 7-0 lead.

2. Blount dashes into end zone, again. On the Patriots' second offensive drive, Blount once again found the end zone. Following a methodical, 10-play, 74-yard drive down the field, which including a key 25-yard completion to Julian Edelman, Blount sprinted in from two yards away, his second two-yard score of the game.

3. Colts respond. As the Colts showed last week, there is no such thing as knocking them out early. Luck hooked up with wide receiver LaVon Brazill on a 38-yard touchdown to cut the Patriots' lead in half. Brazill beat Dennard in man coverage down the sideline.

4. Talib shadowing Hilton. We talked this week about how the Patriots would plan to cover Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. As it turns out, it's been a steady dose of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has shadowed Hilton as he has bounced around the formation. It's a sign of the Patriots' continued confidence in Talib as a lockdown cornerback.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: linebacker Ja'Gared Davis (illegal block in the back) and wide receiver Matthew Slater (illegal block in the back).

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