Final, 43-22 Patriots: It’s all over. Dennard picked off one more pass, and the Pats are on to the title game.
See you next week.
Fourth quarter, 2:34, 43-22 Patriots: LeGarrette Blount, ladies and gentlemen.
The fourth-year back got his first taste of the playoffs tonight, and I think he liked it. He burst for another big gain on this drive, breaking through the left side of the line and taking off for 30 yards. On the drive, Blount got his total to 169 yards before a 3-yard loss dropped it a bit. Nevertheless, the man was a true monster tonight, and he helped get the Patriots in field-goal range.
A strip sack by Robert Mathis (he finally showed up) led to a loose ball sitting on the turf for a few moments on third down, but the Patriots were able to recover.
On fourth-and-18 from the 26-yard line, the Patriots elected to eliminate any risk of Brady getting his finger kicked, and they sent Gostkowski out for a short punt. Standing on his own 40, he kicked it well into the end zone for a touchback.
So no point, but the Pats drained nearly all the time left on the clock, and they’re 2:34 away from advancing to the AFC title game.
Fourth quarter, 10:16, 43-22 Patriots: An overthrown pass from Luck on third-and-1 leads to a Colts punt, and the Pats will look to kill some clock (and avoid injury) here.
Fourth quarter, 11:12, 43-22 Patriots: The Pats were nearly held to a field goal, but on third-and-10, Brady had enough time to patiently wait for Austin Collie (in for the injured Thompkins) to fight through contact and get open on a simple post pattern over the middle. Brady connected with Collie to move the sticks, and after Ridley got the ball to the 1-yard line, the running back picked up a tough yard to get across the goal line for his second touchdown of the night.
It’s 43-22 now, and it’s just about time to declare that safe lead.
How’s this for a stat, by the way?
Fourth quarter, 12:45, 36-22 Patriots: It’s a party at Gillette, as Andrew Luck makes a bad decision to throw into traffic over the middle. Jamie Collins made the pick and returned it to the Colts’ 18-yard line.
Fourth quarter, 12:55, 36-22 Patriots: LeGarrette. Blount.
The big man just found a hole in the right side of the line and showed his surprising burst to break free from anyone in a white jersey. He saw daylight and he took off for a 73-yard touchdown run. He capped it off by literally touching the ball down on the ground, rugby-style. Incredible showing for him, as he now has four touchdowns and 125 yards on 17 carries. The man is a monster.
And in a stunning development, Tom Brady filled in as the holder with Ryan Allen out. He did a fine job on the PAT, and the Pats lead 36-22.
Fourth quarter, 13:08, 29-22 Patriots: Tough break for the Colts, as Luck was blatantly tripped by the outstretched leg of Joe Vellano while trying to escape the pocket. That should have been a penalty, but with the referee and umpire unable to see the foul from their vantage points behind the play, the Pats got away with it. Luck threw incomplete on third down, and the Colts had to punt.
The Pats will try to string something together here, as it’s been tough going for the last few drives.
End of third quarter, 29-22 Patriots: Kanorris Davis gets a mention for coming up huge in punt coverage, as he tackled Whelan for a three-yard loss, setting up the Colts at their own 12-yard line.
The punt came after Ridley came up just shy of the sticks on a second-and-10 run. Develin couldn’t get the yard on third down, and the Pats had to punt. Gostkowski — still not a punter, but still punting in place of the injured Allen — fielded a low snap and got off a decent punt, and Davis was there in coverage.
The Colts picked up four yards on a run up the gut by Donald Brown, and that brought to a close the third quarter.
Third quarter, 2:05, 29-22 Patriots: With Brandon Spikes out of the picture, Jamie Collins has really stepped up and he’s having a great game. He burst through the middle of the line and made a dive at Luck on second down on this drive, sacking the quarterback for a loss of eight yards. Luck’s pass fell incomplete on third down, and Whelan’s attempt to pull an Edelman (aka flop) failed, leading to a McAfee punt. The Pats get another chance to make it a two-score game.
Third quarter, 3:40, 29-22 Patriots: The Patriots had a nothing drive, featuring two runs by Blount and an incompletion on third down, and Gostkowski had to punt again. This one had some decent hang time, forcing Whelan to make a fair catch on the Indy 30.
Colts can tie it on this drive, and there’s a lot of time left. Buckle up.
Third quarter, 5:01, 29-22 Patriots: The Pats’ offense barely had a chance to catch its breath, but a 46-yard beauty from Luck to Hilton followed by another perfect 35-yard pass to Brazill led the Colts to get seven points right back in just over a minute of game time.
Luck has thrown some exceptional passes tonight, and T.Y. Hilton looks like the real deal.
Third quarter, 6:18, 29-15 Patriots: The drive started in a not-so-great way for the Pats, as Blount only made it to the 12-yard line on his kick return. The Pats then ran play action (I believe for the first time all night) and Brady heaved a deep ball to Amendola, who was behind every white jersey on the field. He actually had to slow down to catch the pass, as Brady took extra care to make sure that one was caught. Amendola hauled it in and was taken down, but not before he gained 53 yards for the Pats.
Two plays later, it was third-and-7 from the Colts’ 32-yard line. The Pats lined up with four receivers and Vereen in the backfield, and Brady impressively escaped a heavy rush to buy time and space. He delivered a bullet to Edelman for a first-down gain of eight.
Two plays after that, the Pats were bailed out on a pass interference call on Josh Gordy, who was physical with Edelman as Brady’s pass sailed overhead. Edelman added a little extra gusto to his fall, which — to his credit — drew the flag for pass interfrence.
With a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Brady threw incomplete on a lob to Edelman in the back of the end zone. Ridley then gained two yards up the gut, setting up a third-and-goal from the 3. They went back to Ridley on third down, and Ridley ran off the right tackle and barreled his way into the end zone for a much-needed New England touchdown. The Patriots really needed that one, as it was getting dicey there.
The Pats then lined up to go for two, electing to snap from the left hash. Ridley got it again, this time running off the left tackle and muscling his way through a pile of humans across the goal line.
Flags flew after the play, as Darius Butler hit Ridley after the whistle. The 15-yard penalty will be enforced on the kickoff.
Third quarter, 10:03, 21-15 Patriots: T.Y. Hilton made an absolutely spectacular catch on a deep ball by Luck on a third-and-7 early in the drive. Hilton burned Talib on the play and made a diving catch on a pass that sailed right over his head. It was pretty incredible.
Luck followed that up with a 16-yard back shoulder throw to Fleener to set up first-and-goal at the 4-yard line.
But the Pats’ defense dug in, stopping Brown and Richardson at the line of scrimmage on consecutive plays. On third down, Luck threw a fade to Fleener, who pushed off Jamie Collins but still couldn’t make the catch.
The Colts settled for the field goal, and it’s now a 6-point game.
Third quarter, 13:30, 21-12 Patriots: That was not the start New England wanted to the second half. Brady’s pass to Vereen on third-and-2 was off the mark, and Gostkowski — still in at punter — got no hang time and needed a good bounce to get his punt 35 yards. It’s first-and-10 for the Colts from their 37.
Third quarter, 21-12 Patriots: Pat McAfee’s kick went for a touchback, and the second half is under way. Here’s my bold prediction that might end up meaning nothing at all: The next team to score willl win the game.
Halftime, 21-12 Patriots: One number that pops out to me on the stat sheet at the half is the run/pass ratio for the Patriots. They’ve run the ball 25 times, compared to just 12 pass plays. They’re averaging 3.2 yards per rushing attempt and over 9 yards per pass attempt, so I’d expect to see a little bit more from the passing game in the second half.
With 21, Luck has thrown nearly twice as many passes as Brady, and he’s completed just 52.3 percent of them. He doesn’t have a wealth of receiving options, and the Pats’ pass D has played pretty well. That perfect TD pass to Brazill was really the only time the D got exposed, and it took a perfect deep ball to do it.
Halftime, 21-12 Patriots: The Pats played it safe, and so much for that double score. Ridley ran the ball to start the drive, gaining five yards, and Vereen lost a yard on the next play. Vereen then let a perfect pass drop right between his arms on a route along the left sideline.
With Ryan Allen in the locker room after getting rocked on the punting mishap, Stephen Gostkowski had to punt, and he let a beauty fly. Impressive.
It was first-and-10 for the Colts from their own 16, and after a short run, they let the clock run out on the half.
That was a wild one, and both teams likely are regretting some terrible mistakes. I expect a tighter second half.
One major thing to watch for is Ryan Allen. Gostkowski’s punt was great late in the quarter, but that’s a position in which he’s uncomfortable, and if the Colts get pressure on a punt (like they did earlier in the game), it could be trouble for New England.
Second quarter, 1:14, 21-12 Patriots: The Colts were driving and were already in Vinatieri’s range when Luck threw a bit behind Stanley Havili, who let the ball bounce off his chest and into the air. Hightower was a step behind in coverage, but he was in the right spot to come up with a pick to stop that Colts drive.
Now the Pats have 1:14 and three timeouts to at least try to get a field goal before halftime, and they’ll be getting the ball out of the break, too. So they’ll be looking for the classic double score here to change the game. But to get two, you first need to get one…
Second quarter, 2:18, 21-12 Patriots: Well …. that stupid. The Patriots were stuffed on a third-and-2 run for Blount, and then the offense stayed on the field as if they were going to attempt a fourth-and-2 near midfield. With just 15 or so seconds left on the play clock, the offense sprinted off the field and the punt unit hurried on. They did that against the Bills, and it’s apparently their go-to sneaky special teams move.
It’s dumb, though, and it didn’t work, as the play clock hit zero and the Pats took a 5-yard penalty. It wouldn’t have mattered much, because Allen could have probably booted a high one to pin the Colts deep anyway, but Danny Aiken’s snap sailed high over Allen’s head and all the way back to the 2-yard line. Allen tried to pick up the ball and throw a pass, but he got rocked by two Colts. The ball went out the back of the end zone, which was a fortunate break for the Patriots, as it resulted in a safety. A fumble recovery in the end zone would have been a touchdown for Indy.
So it’s 21-12 now. That was an ugly mess for New England.
Second quarter, 5:35, 21-10 Patriots: The Colts were driving, but a huge run stuff on second down by Dont’a Hightower and an overthrown pass to Hilton on third down forces the Colts to line up for a field goal from the New England 18-yard line. It’s obviously early, but the Patriots will be happy to only give up field goals from here on out.
Obviously, Adam Vinatieri drilled the 36-yarder perfectly through the uprights, by the way.
Second quarter, 10:54, 21-7 Patriots: Another methodical drive by the Patriots ends in … a LeGarrette Blount touchdown plunge from the 1-yard line. What — you thought the Patriots could score via other methods?
That drive was 75 yards on 14 plays, highlighted by a Julian Edelman catch over the middle, after which he bounced off two Colts and ran for 27 yards. Three plays later, he gained separation from a linebacker in coverage, and Brady delivered an absolute dart to keep the drive moving. Ridley and Vereen got the Pats down to the 1-yard line, and Blount the bulldozer did the rest. It’s 21-7 Patriots.
End of first quarter, 14-7 Patriots: At the end of 15 minutes, the Pats lead 14-7. They’ll have a second-and-9 at their own 38 when the second begins. Brady noticed a weakness in the Indy D on a third-and-3 and checked into an inside run for Vereen, who barreled his way to a five-yard gain and a first down.
The Pats seem to be going with Ridley now, perhaps to give Blount a good breather after he was leaned on heavily early in the first. Also because Ridley is pretty good.
First quarter, 2:22, 14-7 Patriots: Credit Devin McCourty for putting a good stick on Da’Rick Rogers on a first-down pass deep over the middle, as he knocked the ball loose just as the ball hit the receiver’s chest.
A short run by Richardson and a pass out of the reach of Fleener up the right sideline on third down later, and the Colts had to punt.
Again, there was a penalty on the punt return, so the Pats will start at their own 25-yard line instead of the 40. This penalty was on Matthew Slater, and it was kind of unavoidable as he was trying to clear out the space for Edelman to catch a twisting, bending punt from McAfee.
First quarter, 3:16, 14-7 Patriots: And now the Colts’ defense answers the bell, with Erik Walden sacking Brady on third down, when the QB had no open receivers to throw to. Stevan Ridley got his first touch of the game in an uneventful second-down run, and the Colts can tie it up with a scoring drive here.
Ryan Allen booted an absolute beauty as two Colts nearly blocked it in front of the New England goal line, as he pinned the Colts all the way back to their 27-yard line. Amazing punt, if you’re into that sort of thing.
First quarter, 4:35, 14-7 Patriots: The Colts looked in danger of having another short drive, but Luck just got rid of a pass on third down as Chandler Jones hit him, and Griff Whalen took off for a big gain.
On the next play, Luck went deep down the right sideline to LaVon Brazill. Dennard was there in coverage but couldn’t leap to break up the pass, and Brazill showed nice hands to haul it in before crossing the goal line for six.
That was a huge answer drive for Luck and the Colts, because another punt there, and this one could have gotten out of hand. They settled things down a bit with that 80-yard touchdown drive.
First quarter, 7:17, 14-0 Patriots: That Tom Brady, he’s pretty good, and LeGarrette Blount ain’t so bad either.
The Pats just systematically drove through the Colts, getting key third-down receptions from Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola, as well as a 25-yard catch-and-run from Julian Edelman, and Blount did the rest. The running back picked up 17 yards on that drive, including a 3-yard waltz into the end zone on second-and-goal, and the Pats now lead 14-0. The Pats couldn’t have scripted a better start.
I’m not sure how or why the Colts didn’t cover Shane Vereen on a third-and-4 early in the drive. He motioned out of the backfield to the left slot and ran a simple out pattern, and the Colts just did not cover him. That’s a mistake that you can’t make in the playoffs.
Also on that drive, Tom Brady became the first quarterback in history to surpass 6,000 career postseason passing yards. Like I said, he’s good at this game.
First quarter, 12:20, 7-0 Patriots: The great start continues for the Pats, as the defense forces the Colts into a three-and-out. Chandler Jones bullied Anthony Castonzo to hit Luck as he threw on second down, forcing an incompletion. Luck then hit Hilton over the middle on third down, but Talib was running step-for-step with the receiver and brought him down for a very minimal gain.
Julian Edelman caught McAfee’s punt at the New England 20, slipped through a big old mess and took it all the way to the 42-yard line. But a penalty on Ja’Gared Davis for an illegal block in the back negated that solid return.
Brady and the offense will start their first real drive at their own 26-yard line. (Their first drive started at the 2-yard line, of course.)
First quarter, 13:41, 7-0 Patriots: Wow, that’s one way to start a game.
The Colts faced a third-and-1 from their own 29-yard line and elected to pass. Luck threw left to LaVon Brazil, and Alfonzo Dennard jumped the route and returned it all the way to the Colts’ 2-yard line.
LeGarrette Blount took the handoff on the next play, and he bowled his way into the end zone. It’s 7-0 Patriots, and that’s not at all what the Colts were hoping for when they chose to receive the football.
First quarter, 15:00: Stephen Gostkowski’s kick was deep enough for a touchback, and this one is under way. Time for some playoff football.
8:13 p.m.: The Colts won the toss and chose to receive, meaning Andrew Luck and Co. will start with the ball. Kickoff is just mere seconds away now.
8:09 p.m.: After observing a moment of silence for Sam Berns, and the singing of the national anthem, it’s just about game time here at Gillette.
7:50 p.m.: The Seahawks just guaranteed they’d be hosting the NFC Championship Game last week, thanks to an absolutely boneheaded mistake by Marques Colston at the end. The receiver caught a pass on the sideline with a few seconds left, and he could have stepped out of bounds to give the Saints a shot at the end zone. A touchdown and a two-point conversion would have tied the game.
Instead, Colston inexplicably heaved the ball forward, nowhere near anybody, and the game ended. Oops.
Anyway, the teams have gone through their warmups here at Gillette, and the countdown to kickoff is on.
7:04 p.m.: For anyone hoping to see Deion Branch tonight, I have some bad news: He’s inactive.
It was a long shot for the receiver to play, as he hasn’t taken an NFL snap in a full calendar year, but that would have been something. Darrius Heyward-Bey is also out for the Colts, who are noticeably thin at wide receiver.
No surprises for the Pats on their inactive list. Here are both teams’ inactives:
Aaron Dobson, WR
Justin Green, DB
D.J. Williams, TE
Steve Beauharnais, LB
Chris Barker, OL
Isaac Sopoaga, DT
Jake Bequette, DE
Josh Lenz, WR
Sheldon Price, CB
Daniel Adongo, OLB
Khaled Holmes, C/G
Joe Reitz, G
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Deion Branch, WR
6:20 p.m.: In sad news today, Sam Berns passed away. The 17-year-old suffered from Progeria, a rapid aging disease, and among the many things he accomplished in life, he developed a relationship with Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots.
Kraft released the following statement:
“I loved Sam Berns and am richer for having known him. He was a special young man whose inspirational story and positive outlook on life touched my heart. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with him and to get to know his incredible family. Together, they positively impacted the lives of people around the world in their quest to find a cure for Progeria. The HBO documentary, ‘Life According to Sam’ shared his incredible story with a national audience. It was so beautifully done. It made you laugh. It also made you cry. Today, it’s the latter for all who knew Sam or learned of his story through that documentary.
“Earlier this week, I had extended an invitation for Sam to be the Patriots’ honorary captain for tonight’s playoff game. I was looking forward to spending more time with Sam and his family. News of his passing came as a complete surprise. It is another reminder that we can’t take anything for granted. Be sure to give your loved ones hugs and kisses and tell them how much you love them. My heart aches for his parents, Scott and Leslie, his aunt Audrey and the rest of Sam’s extended family. Words cannot express the sadness or the depth of sympathy I feel for them today.”
6 p.m.: Greetings from Gillette Stadium, where it’s unseasonably warm but currently raining puppies and kittens.
It’s certainly not downpouring out there right now, but the weather probably won’t improve for quite some time. There’s some thunder and lightning as well as wind in the forecast, and those kittens and puppies may be upgraded to cats and dogs.
(UPDATE: In the few minutes it took to write this post, the dogs and cats came. It’s dumping rain. Holy smokes.)
That’s sure to be a major story line here tonight, as the Patriots and Colts face off in a divisional playoff game. By now, you’ve read and heard every single thing there is to say about this one, as playoff weeks tend to be lessons in patience for all those looking forward to football.
While the wind and rain is sure to be a story tonight, the play of the two teams will be the story. It could be a blowout either way, or it could be a nail-biter. Nobody knows (despite what they try to tell you), and that’s why we all watch.
Here’s a pregame look at Gillette:
And here is some pregame reading to help you kill the final hours of waiting.
I’ll have all the updates right here in the live blog, from the inactive lists all the way up until a winner is decided, so stick with it tonight.