Patriots punch ticket to Super Bowl with knockout of Colts
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) No doubt about it.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the dominant coach-quarterback pair in the NFL. And they left no question that they deserve the sixth Super Bowl appearance of their brilliant careers.
Brady threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns, Belichick got his league-high 21st postseason win and the New England Patriots routed the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship game Sunday night.
''We've had a lot of good teams in the past,'' Brady said. ''This one is going to have to win a very important game to kind of leave our legacy.''
It's the most important one. The Patriots (14-4) will face defending champion Seattle (14-4) on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona, as they seek their first Super Bowl win in 10 years after winning three in four. The Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime in the NFC title game Sunday.
LeGarrette Blount ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns for New England in the second-most lopsided win in an AFC title game.
''You look around and people are posing with the trophy, everybody's smiling,'' Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said in the locker room. ''Everybody's smiling. Even coach Belichick is smiling.''
Andrew Luck's expression was much different after his worst game since he was chosen with the top pick in the 2012 draft. He completed 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He is 0-4 against the Patriots with every loss by at least 21 points.
''It's hard to find much good right now, fresh off this game,'' Luck said. ''We had our sights set higher.''
The Patriots lost AFC title games the past two seasons after losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl after the 2011 season.
''It's so much work just to get there and losing the last time we were there hurt,'' New England safety Devin McCourty said. ''We've got to play a great team. They wouldn't be there if they weren't and to go back two years in a row is tough, and they did it.''"
The Patriots have a pretty impressive history, too.
Brady surpassed John Elway for most Super Bowl appearances for a quarterback and tied defensive lineman Mike Lodish for most by any player. Belichick tied Don Shula for most Super Bowls for a coach and broke a tie with Tom Landry with his 21st postseason win. And New England tied Dallas and Pittsburgh for most appearances in the big game with eight.
''I know we've had some ups and downs this year,'' Brady said of a team that split its first four games, ''but right now we're up, baby, and we're going to try to stay up for one more game.''"
Some things to take from the Patriots' blowout win:
UP HIS HOODIE SLEEVE: One game after receiver Julian Edelman threw a touchdown pass to beat Baltimore, the Patriots pulled out another trick play.
With a third-and-1 on the Colts' 16 early in the third quarter, offensive tackle Nate Solder reported as an eligible receiver and caught a touchdown pass from Brady to give New England a 24-7 lead.
''It was amazing to be a part of a game like that and have a cool play like that,'' Solder said. ''The stars were aligned.''
Belichick repeatedly caught the Ravens off guard last week when they used skill players as ineligible receivers. Against Indianapolis, the crowd cheered every time the referee announced an eligible or ineligible receiver.
Brady noted that Solder played tight end his first year in college at Colorado.
''So I don't know,'' he said, ''maybe we have more tricks up our sleeve.''
COACHING TREE: The Super Bowl will feature the two most recent Patriots coaches.
Belichick has had great success in New England, winning six AFC titles and three Super Bowls. But Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was a flop in Foxborough, coaching the team for three seasons and winning fewer games in each one than the year before.
Carroll then went to Southern Cal, winning two national championships and finishing in the top 5 of The Associated Press poll seven times in nine years before returning to the NFL with the Seahawks.
NO EXCUSES: Luck wouldn't blame the rainy weather and Colts coach Chuck Pagano wouldn't blame distractions for the loss.
''I don't think it had a negative effect on anything,'' Luck said about his dome-team struggling in the rain.
The Colts placed backup linebacker Josh McNary on the commissioner's exempt list Thursday, less than 24 hours after prosecutors filed criminal charges against him. Reserve offensive tackle Xavier Nixon missed the team's flight Saturday and was inactive. Running back Trent Richardson missed the walk-through Saturday and didn't travel with the team.
''We've got too good of veteran leadership in that locker room, and we're not going to use that as any excuse,'' Pagano said.
BABY STEPS: The Colts have improved by one game in each of Luck's three seasons. They lost in the wild-card round to Baltimore in 2012 and the Patriots beat them in the divisional round last year.
''We'll learn from this, we'll grow from this and we'll go to work and make 2015 better than 2014,'' Pagano said.
SPREADING THE WEALTH: Rob Gronkowski didn't catch his first pass until the middle of the third quarter and finished with only three receptions for 28 yards and one touchdown. But the Patriots didn't need much from their All-Pro tight end, who was matched up against nemesis Sergio Brown.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL