It was supposed to be a matchup of elite quarterbacks, the aging future Hall of Famer against the rising young star on Saturday night.
But on a rainy night at Gillette Stadium, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck were merely subplots. Coach Bill Belichick and his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, turned the Patriots into a ball-control running team against an erratic Indianapolis Colts defense.
So as Brady failed to record a touchdown pass, the Patriots still thrived. LeGarrette Blount rushed for a franchise postseason-record four touchdowns as New England advanced to the AFC Championship Game with a 43-22 victory.
New England will play the winner of Sunday’s Broncos-Chargers game. If the Broncos win, the Patriots travel to Denver next week. If the Chargers win, New England hosts San Diego.
Blount ran for 166 yards, matching the franchise record for most rushing yards in a postseason game. And he broke the game open with a 73-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, the second-longest postseason touchdown run in team history.
That score halted an Indianapolis comeback in the second half.
New England’s Stevan Ridley scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns in the third quarter, responding to an Adam Vinatieri field goal that pulled the Colts within 22-15. But Luck hit T.Y. Hilton on a 46-yard reception before connecting with LaVon Brazill on a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Just like that, Luck delivered a touchdown to keep the Colts in the game as it moved into the fourth quarter. But the Patriots’ defense forced the Colts to punt on their first possession of the quarter and Blount scampered 73 yards on first down, shifting momentum back to New England.
Luck threw his third interception of the game on the ensuing possession, as rookie linebacker Jamie Collins gathered the pass and ran to the Colts’ 18. Five plays later, Ridley ran in from a yard and it was a three-touchdown spread.
The six rushing touchdowns were a team postseason record. The NFL record is seven.
Luck was 20 of 41 for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw four interceptions. Brady was 13 of 25 for 198 yards.
It was the 18th postseason victory of Brady’s career, the most by a quarterback. It was also the 19th postseason win of Belichick’s career, matching Don Shula for second on the all-time list. Tom Landry leads with 20.