Takeaways from the New England Patriots' Divisional Round Win over the Colts

Andrew Tornetta@AndrewTornettaCorrespondent IIJanuary 12, 2014

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11:  LeGarrette Blount #29  of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammate Tom Brady #12 in the end zone after scoring a 2 yard touchdown in the first quarter the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

As reporters filed into the New England Patriots locker room following their 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts, there was an aura of familiarity emanating throughout it.

There was no celebrating. There wasn't any music blaring or players dancing around.

Aside from an unexpected appearance from NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, it was simply business as usual.

That's because for the Patriots, this is another case of been there, done that. 

The win on Saturday night sent New England to its third straight AFC Championship game. Over the last three years, their average margin of victory in the Divisional Round is 23 points. 

In fact, in the 12 years that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been together (excluding the 2008 season that Brady missed), they have gone to the AFC Championship eight times.

"(Getting to the AFC Championship) is just a great achievement for our team," Brady said at the podium after the game. "I know people have counted us out at times during this year but I think we have a locker room full of believers, so hopefully we can go out and play our best next week."

On Sunday we will find out who and where the Patriots will be playing in the AFC Championship but in the meantime, here are four critical takeaways from the team's AFC Divisional Round victory: 

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots runs a 73 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachus
Al Bello/Getty Images

LeGarrette Blount picked up right where he left off to end the regular season

That Jeff Demps for LeGarrette Blount trade looks pretty good right about now.

Since getting traded to the Patriots before the season, Blount has been everything the team hoped for and more, and he continues to get better with each passing game. Blount rushed for just three total touchdowns over the first 14 games of the season but finished the year in a huge way.

In Weeks 16 and 17, Blount carried the rock 40 times for 265 yards with four touchdowns (two in each game) and he didn't waste any time on Saturday night either.

Blount's first carry of the game resulted in a two-yard touchdown and he totaled three rushing touchdowns in the first half alone. With the Patriots leading 29-22 early in the fourth quarter, Blount broke off a 73-yard touchdown run that proved to be the final nail in the Colts' coffin.

He finished the game with 24 carries for 166 yards and four touchdowns, rewriting numerous record books. He broke the Patriots' playoff record for yards in a game and finished with the second most rushing touchdowns in a game in NFL playoff history.

He was also the first player in NFL playoff history to rush for at least 150 yards and four rushing touchdowns in a game. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, he did almost all of his damage running between the tackles.

After the game, Blount (still wearing his full uniform, pads and all) talked about how his confidence continues to rise with each carry.

“I’m really confident. Those guys in front of me, they don’t get tired. I ain’t going to get tired, and if we’re going to be able to continue running the football like that throughout the playoffs then I’ll be happy with it."

From 2011 to 2013, Blount went 30 straight games with less than 100 yards rushing and he now has back-to-back games with over 150 rushing yards.

Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks to pass during the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Webe
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck is great, but the Colts are not

If any young quarterback was ever going to make a "this is my league now" statement, Andrew Luck playing in Foxboro against Tom Brady in the playoffs would have been a pretty good time.

The problem for Luck was, his team simply wasn't up to the challenge. While Brady had the luxury of handing the ball off over 40 times thanks to a dominant rushing attack, Luck was going to have to play a near perfect game just to keep his team within striking distance.

Even against an injury-ravaged Patriots team, the Colts simply could not keep up. The Indianapolis defense was helpless to stop the Patriots' running game and the only time the Colts would move the ball on offense was off the arm of Andrew Luck.

Even for a quarterback that has proven to be as great as Luck, winning on Saturday was a near impossible task with the team he had around him.

Despite the improbable odds, Luck's Colts trailed by just a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter before the floodgates opened up.

Luck threw the ball 28 times over the first three quarters but attempted just five passes over the first 13 minutes of the fourth as the Colts' defense couldn't get off the field. In total, Luck completed 20 of 41 passes for 331 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Meanwhile, according to Fox Sports: NFL, Brady had one of his easiest days at the office in his entire career.

Andrew Luck's seven playoff interceptions this year will tell you he still has a ways to go before reaching the level of his counterpart on Saturday but he will continue to get better with each passing year.

However, as Saturday night showed, the Colts still have a much longer way to go if they are going to be a legitimate threat in the AFC. 

The Colts traded a first round pick for Trent Richardson, a guy that rushed for one yard on three carries in a playoff game.
The Colts traded a first round pick for Trent Richardson, a guy that rushed for one yard on three carries in a playoff game.David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis couldn't exploit the Patriots' run defense

Thanks to a litany of injuries to their front seven, the Patriots had one of the worst run defenses in the league this year. They actually ranked as the 30th rush defense in the league to be exact, allowing 134.1 yards per game.

With Brandon Spikes—the team's top linebacker in stopping the run—getting placed on season-ending injured reserve early in the week, the Patriots run defense looked to be an easy target to attack.

However, luckily for the Patriots they faced the Colts who have one of the worst rushing tandems in all of football in Trent Richardson and Donald Brown.

While the UConn alum Brown has shown to be the better of the two backs, he is still far from being an elite rusher in the league.

As a result, the Colts were still left to play one-dimensional football, relying heavily on the arm of second-year quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts running backs combined for just 64 total yards on 20 carries, forcing the Colts to throw the ball 23 more times than they ran it.

Regardless of who the Patriots play next week, expect the run defense to get a lot more work, as both the Broncos and Chargers have far better running games than the Colts do.

Aqib Talib celebrates with LeGarrette Blount after the running back punches in one of his four touchdowns on the day.
Aqib Talib celebrates with LeGarrette Blount after the running back punches in one of his four touchdowns on the day.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Aqib Talib got the better of T.Y. Hilton

Throughout the early part of the season, Aqib Talib was the integral piece of the Patriots defense, locking down opposing team's top weapons week in and week out.

He struggled as the season progressed thanks to a nagging hip injury but looked to be in top form on Satuday night.

T.Y. Hilton, Andrew Luck's top target, entered the game playing his best football of the season. In the Wild Card Round, Hilton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs. That was following an 11-catch, 155-yard performance in the week before.

Well, going one-on-one with Talib, Hilton fared much differently.

Talib followed Hilton all over the field throughout the night, playing him on both the right and left sides as well as in the slot on a couple of occasions.

With Talib on him, Hilton caught two passes for 17 yards on three targets in the first half. In the third quarter he did beat Talib for a 41-yard catch that set up an Indianapolis field goal but was silent with Talib on him after that.

Hilton beat Alfonzo Dennard later in the quarter for a 46-yard gain, making his overall line of four catches for 104 yards look much better than it otherwise would have been.

"We had a good game plan but we let him get behind us two times," Talib said of Hilton after the game. "One of our main points of emphasis this week is to not let him run through the defense and we let him do it two times; one in man [coverage] and one in zone. I think we did alright. We contained him but we didn’t completely stop him."

Talib will have his hands full again next week, going up against Denver's Demaryius Thomas or the Chargers' Keenan Allen.

But regardless of whether the Patriots play host to the Chargers or travel to play the Broncos in Denver, there is no doubt they will be riding a huge wave of momentum after a dominant Divisional Round victory over the Colts.

The only question is if they can repeat their performance next week and earn a trip to New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII.


Andrew Tornetta is a correspondent for Bleacher Report. You can find his B/R archive and follow him on Twitter @AndrewTornetta. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first hand or via team news releases.


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