Patriots Return to AFC Championship Game

New England outlasts Indianapolis, 43-22

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) heads down field for a 75 yard touchdown run during the second half of an AFC divisional NFL playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

    If we've learned anything from this Patriots team, it's that they know how to win. Injuries to key players don't change the ultimate goal, and to watch New England over the course of the season is to marvel at how distractions never enter the conversation.

    Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spike, Sebastian Vollmer and Rob Gronkowski are all on injured reserve, relegating to watching the game like the rest of us: in our street clothes. And still, the Pats keep plugging along, their latest victory, a 43-22 decision, coming against the upstart Colts in a game where Tom Brady didn't throw a single, solitary touchdown. Instead, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels relied heavily on the run game.

    Specifically, LeGarrette Blount, who needed to traverse just six yards to score his first three touchdowns, before galloping 73 yards early in the fourth quarter for his fourth score, putting the game away.

    "Once I get into the open field, they're going to have to chase me," Blount said afterwards. "And if they catch me, they do. And if they don't, they don't. They usually don't."

    Bill Belichick added: "He's got that combination of size, power and quickness and speed. He can run hard. He can make guys miss and he can go the distance."

    When it was over, Blount had 24 carries for 166 yards and 4 TDs, while Brady happily embraced the game manager role: 13-of-25 for 198 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.

    The Patriots defense, meanwhile, stifled Indy's offense, forcing second-year quarterback Andrew Luck into four interceptions. He finished 20-of-41 for 331 yards and a lot of regrets.

    "I'm just disappointed in myself," Luck said. "I can't commit that many turnovers and have a chance to win against a great team like this."

    But this is the postseason; there is no rest for the weary and no time to revel in good fortune. Because next Sunday, the Patriots travel to -- you guessed it -- Denver to face Peyton Manning. In 14 previous matchups between Brady and Manning, Manning is 4-10, including a loss earlier this season after the Broncos led by 24 points.

    "It's just a great achievement," Brady said of the win over the Colts. "People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we've got a locker room full of believers."