AFC Championship: Brady and Belichick Advance to Sixth Super Bowl In Familiar Fashion
This was exactly how it was supposed to be.
The star-studded Patriots, led by a healthy Rob Gronkowski, not-dead-yet Tom Brady and rejuvenated Darrelle Revis, stomped the Colts…again.
And it wasn’t close…again.
Fresh off a thrilling win over the Ravens in which Brady attempted 50 passes, Josh McDaniels smartly went back to his Colts-killing game plan and handed the ball to bruising back LeGarrette Blount 30 times. The Steelers castoff rumbled his way to 148 yards and three touchdowns to take the franchise lead for postseason rushing touchdowns with seven.
Blount’s big night allowed the Patriots to dominate time of possession (37:49) while also opening up big plays in the passing game. Though Gronk had a quiet night by his Herculean standards (3 catches, 28 yards, 1 TD), Julian Edelman did his usual damage inside the numbers (9 catches, 98 yards), and Shane Vereen came up with a huge 30-yard reception on a beautifully executed wheel route. Hell, even fullback James Develin showed up in the passing game, demonstrating incredible strength and toughness on a 1-yard touchdown catch.
Of course, New England’s 45-7 victory wouldn’t have been possible without elevated play from the offensive line. Much-maligned throughout the year, a unit without starting center Bryan Stork didn’t skip a beat against Indy’s defensive front. Ryan Wendell filled in at center, and last week’s ragdoll Josh Kline stepped up big time as a run blocker. Rookie Cameron Fleming played 28 impactful snaps as an extra blocker.
Oh, and can we get a special shoutout for this fat guy touchdown?
New England’s diverse offensive attack was the perfect complement to an aggressive defensive effort that limited Andrew Luck to just 126 yards and a quarterback rating of 23.0.
No, that’s not a typo. 23.0.
Though the Patriots didn’t record a sack, defensive end Rob Ninkovich applied consistent pressure and forced Luck off his spot. The NFL’s touchdown leader completed just 12-of-33 attempts and threw two interceptions in the 38-point loss.
His receivers didn’t help much, as T.Y. Hilton was silenced by Kyle Arrington yet again. New England’s No. 3 corner held the Pro Bowl receiver to just one catch for 36 yards on six targets. Revis Island didn’t allow a single catch on two targets and snagged his third interception as a Patriot. Brandon Browner also did an effective job on Coby Fleener (3 catches, 30 yards).
New England’s massively improved secondary has been the key difference this season, particularly the addition of Revis. Sticky coverage along with versatile schemes has made up for a rather average pass rush that often relies on A-gap pressure from linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins rather than a dominant edge presence.
As the Patriots prepare to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in two weeks, the feeling around Foxboro is definitely different than in years passed.
That legendary ’07 team was under a ton of pressure to go undefeated and also had to deal with the Spygate scandal. In 2011, the team probably didn’t deserve to be in the Super Bowl, was playing Edelman at slot corner and had a one-legged Gronkowski as a decoy.
However, the 2014 version of the Patriots is a terrific mix of healthy superstars (Revis, Brady, Gronkowski, Devin McCourty), budding young talent (Collins, Hightower, Jones) and solid contributors (Ninkovich, Arrington and Sebastian Vollmer). This is also a team that’s been through adversity (Logan Mankins trade, Jerod Mayo injury and Ravens comeback).
Bill Belichick’s mantra of “Do your Job” isn’t just words to this team. Role players know exactly what their place is, and the superstars have maintained their high level of play throughout the season.
This isn’t a one-dimensional passing team like in ’07 and ’11. This isn’t a defense that has to put Edelman on Anquan Boldin. This is arguably the most well-rounded team of the Brady-Belichick era and one that deserves a spot in the Super Bowl.
Beating the Seahawks is going to be an entirely new challenge in itself. But there’s something special about this 2014 Patriots team. And with the best coach in football, the best postseason quarterback of all time and a Hall of Fame tight end and cornerback, it’s tough to think that this team won’t finish the journey.
It may seem simplistic, but the way to beat the Seahawks comes down to this: Do Your Job.