8:15 PM ET, January 11, 2014
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
The Colts suffered their worst loss with Luck last season at New England, but the stakes will be higher in Saturday night's AFC divisional playoff matchup at Gillette Stadium.
Indianapolis (12-5) turned in the most stunning performance of the postseason to this point by rallying from a 28-point deficit in the second half last Saturday for a 45-44 home win over Kansas City. Luck was the catalyst, throwing for four touchdowns and 443 yards -- many of which came after the Colts' fate seemed doomed thanks to his three interceptions.
"It was a tremendous performance coming back in the second half," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They did a really good job in all three areas of the game. This is a team that's well coached, that's had a real good season. They beat some of the best teams in the league, in both the AFC and the NFC. They've just been impressive."
Luck's Colts are now 14-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points.
These teams met in 10 straight regular seasons before that streak ended in 2013, and New England (12-4) cruised to a 59-24 win Nov. 18, 2012, in the last matchup. Brady went 24 of 35 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while Luck was 27 of 50 for 334 yards, two scores and three INTs.
"I don't want to dwell too much on last year," Luck said. "They do a great job of forcing turnovers, getting to the quarterback. We know it's going to be a dogfight."
One notable effort from last year was T.Y Hilton's six catches for 100 yards and two scores. The Patriots will no doubt have their full attention on the second-year receiver after he caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two scores against the Chiefs last week.
"He's productive at all three levels of the defense," Belichick said. "He's a vertical receiver, he's a good intermediate receiver and he's a good catch-and-run short receiver that can turn short plays into big plays."
One concern for New England is an injury-plagued group of linebackers down to six -- three who have seen little action. That trio doesn't include backup Dane Fletcher, who will start in place of Brandon Spikes.
"Everybody has to step up," Fletcher said. "Everybody's role kind of increases on defense, especially in the linebacker unit."
It hasn't been a vintage season for Brady, whose 87.3 passer rating is his lowest in a full season since 2003. He has been sacked 40 times, the most since his first full year in 2001.
The number of times he has been dropped no doubt adds to his awareness of Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks in the regular season and added one last weekend.
"He's a great player and been a great player for a long time," said Brady about Mathis. "We've played these guys a bunch over the years. We kind of know what we're up against. He's having one of the best years of his career."
The Patriots' offense hasn't been the same with Rob Gronkowski out for the season with a knee injury after he only saw action in seven games. That came after the embattled Aaron Hernandez was let go and Wes Welker departed to Denver.
What Brady did have at his disposal was a running game in which Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount combined for 1,545 yards and 14 scores. Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen have also been a factor running the football.
"It's a heck of a challenge," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "What LeGarrette is doing and Ridley and certainly with Shane coming in, and Bolden is no slouch. I mean, they've got a stable of guys that are all more than capable."
Brady's preferred target in 2013 was Julian Edelman, who posted career highs of 105 catches and 1,056 yards receiving.
One of Brady's former receivers, Deion Branch, was signed Monday by Indianapolis. Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP with New England, started four of 10 games for the Patriots last year.
"Having had some time spent there, we figured that the questions were going to come up 'If you're signing this guy who spent time in New England, is it just a coincidence or do you need the guy to help you win a football game?'" Pagano said. "We think we got a heck of a football player."
Branch was signed since Darrius Heyward-Bey injured a hamstring last weekend and is out for this game.
The Colts also have numerous injuries on defense. Starting cornerback Greg Toler (groin) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee) were placed on injured reserve this week while safety LaRon Landry is dealing with a concussion.
Landry was a full participant in practice this week and is listed as probable.
The home team has captured all three postseason meetings, with New England winning twice.
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New England Patriots
|Avg Points Allowed||43.5||22.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||IND|
|Rush Yds Allowed||IND|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 11-5|
|Nov 18, 2012||IND 24, @NE 59|
|Dec 4, 2011||IND 24, @NE 31|
|Nov 21, 2010||IND 28, @NE 31|
|Nov 15, 2009||IND 35, NE 34|
|Nov 2, 2008||IND 18, NE 15|
|Nov 4, 2007||IND 20, NE 24|
|Jan 21, 2007||IND 38, NE 34|
|Nov 5, 2006||IND 27, @NE 20|
|Nov 7, 2005||IND 40, @NE 21|
|Jan 16, 2005||IND 3, @NE 20|
|Sep 9, 2004||IND 24, @NE 27|
|Jan 18, 2004||IND 14, @NE 24|
|Nov 30, 2003||IND 34, NE 38|
|Oct 21, 2001||IND 17, NE 38|
|Sep 30, 2001||IND 13, @NE 44|
Andrew Luck will start his second career road playoff game Saturday, and his play on the road in his second season has been much improved from his rookie campaign.[+]
Andrew Luck on Road in Career (Including Playoffs)
The Patriots will play their ninth consecutive playoff game at home Saturday against the Colts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that will extend the second-longest streak of home playoff games in NFL history. If the Patriots and Chargers both win this weekend, New England would host the AFC Championship Game and tie the Dolphins for the most consecutive playoff games at home in league history (10).[+]
Most Consecutive Playoff Games at Home - NFL History
Brandon Spikes played in 669 of the Patriots' defensive snaps this season and they allowed a Total QBR of 44.1 with him on the field, compared to 59.7 without him.[+]
Patriots with Brandon Spikes On/Off Field - This Season
Why did the Colts sign Deion Branch? He likely won't make major on-field contributions Saturday night, but not many people know Tom Brady's tendencies better than Branch.[+]
The Patriots scored a touchdown on five of six red-zone trips (83.3%) Saturday, all via rush. During the regular season, they found the end zone on 55.4% of drives that reached the red zone, 15th in the league. In their nine regular-season games without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots scored a touchdown on 42.4% of red-zone drives. In seven games with Gronkowski on the field this season, the Patriots found the end zone on 68.8% of red-zone trips.
Andrew Luck has thrown eight interceptions in his playoff career, tied for the most by a quarterback in his first three postseason starts in the Super Bowl era (ELIAS).[+]
Most Int in 1st 3 Postseason Starts - Super Bowl Era (Since 1966)
Dont'a Hightower's interception of Andrew Luck in the second quarter was the result of a Stanley Havili drop, the Colts' second interception in as many games that resulted from a receiver drop. The Colts did not have such an interception throughout the entire regular season. Donald Brown had 18 yards after contact on 17 rushes Saturday (1.1 YAC/rush). During the regular season, Donald Brown averaged an NFL-best 2.7 yards after contact per rush.
- LeGarrette Blount became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards and four touchdowns in a postseason game. - Blount ran for 166 yards Saturday, 162 of which were gained on runs inside the tackles, fifth most by a player in a game this season. - Blount had three of his four touchdown runs against eight or more defenders in the box, tied for the most such touchdowns in a game this season. - Blount had 146 rush yards before contact, the second-most such yards for a player in a game this season (DeMarco Murray against the Rams in Week 3 - 149).[+]
LeGarrette Blount Rushing, This Season
Andrew Luck threw just 9 interceptions in 16 games (570 pass attempts) in the regular season... He threw 7 interceptions in 2 playoff games (86 pass attempts).
Andrew Luck was 0-for-5 with two interceptions on passes traveling 15 or more yards downfield in the fourth quarter Saturday. Luck completed seven deep passes in the first three quarters, tied for the most such completions in a game in his career. -- Luck was 5-for-5 for 149 yards on play action, all in the first three quarters, including 4-for-4 with two touchdowns on deep passes.[+]
Andrew Luck Passing 15+ Yards Downfield, Saturday
The Patriots called designed rush plays on 46 of their 73 offensive snaps Saturday (63.0%), their highest rate in any postseason game since 2001, and scored a franchise-record six rushing touchdowns. The Patriots ran the ball 41.3% of the time in the regular season, 16th in the league.
The Patriots secured their 8th conference championship appearance in the Tom Brady - Bill Belichick era (since 2001 with Brady starting at QB). If you take away the season Brady was out with a torn ACL, the Patriots have made 8 title games in 12 seasons with Brady as a starter.[+]
Most Conference Championship Appearances Since 2001
The Patriots scored 43 points without throwing a TD pass, the 3rd-highest point total without a TD pass in NFL playoff history.[+]
Most Points Scored With 0 Pass TD - Playoff Game in NFL History
LeGarrette Blount finished with 166 yards and 4 touchdown runs in his 1st career playoff game. That is more yards, and twice as many touchdowns as he had with the Buccaneers in 13 games last season. With his 189 rush yards in Week 17, Blount is averaging 177.5 rush yards per game in his last 2 contests.[+]
LeGarrette Blount Career Rushing
ESPN Stats & Information