FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With a trip to the Super Bowl at stake, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff emptied their bag of tricks Sunday night.
The Patriots unleashed their running game against the overmatched Indianapolis Colts. They set the tone early and never wavered in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night. And when they needed to squeeze the life out of their inexperienced opponent, the Patriots unveiled another trick play — Tom Brady tossed a touchdown pass to tackle Nate Solder, a former college tight end.
By the time it was over, Gillette Stadium was shaking as fans sent the Patriots off to Glendale, Ariz. The Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl after dominating the Colts, 45-7.
The Patriots will face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium. They will be facing Seattle coach Pete Carroll, New England’s coach before Belichick.
This will be Belichick’s sixth Super Bowl with the Patriots and first in four years. Belichick will tie Don Shula for most Super Bowl appearances.
With Sunday’s win, Belichick passed Don Shula (20) for most postseason wins in NFL history.
A week ago, the Patriots advanced past the Baltimore Ravens by abandoning their running game. New England compiled 14 rushing yards as Brady threw 50 passes.
Against the Colts, LeGarrette Blount carried the ball 30 times — a postseason franchise record — for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Belichick also kept the Colts guessing, using offensive lineman Cameron Fleming as an eligible receiver throughout the game.
The result was a 45-point performance that matched a franchise high for most points in a postseason game. The Patriots also scored 45 against the Broncos on Jan. 14, 2012.
Despite controlling the first half, New England’s lead was just 10 points. But the Patriots put the game away in the third quarter, turning the game into a blowout.
New England opened the second half with a nine-play drive as Blount ran 40 yards on four carries. On third and 1 from the Indianapolis 16, Brady threw a touchdown pass to Solder. The tackle, who was a college tight end at Colorado, was lined up as an eligible receiver and he caught the first pass of his career.
In the win against the Ravens last week, New England scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola. Edelman, a quarterback at Kent State, had never thrown an NFL pass.
This time, the Patriots allowed a former college tight end to catch a touchdown pass as the coaching staff continued to dig deep into the playbook.
The next drive ended with a more conventional score — Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski and the rout was on. The Patriots led 31-7 and the crowd at Gillette Stadium was roaring, despite a wind gusts and heavy rain.
Revis intercepted a pass later in the third, returning it to the Colts 13. Blount ran in on first down and the game was out of reach.
Blount added another touchdown run in the fourth quarter. That gave him seven postseason touchdown runs, the most in franchise history. Tom Brady and Curtis Martin have five each.
The tone was set early, as Josh Cribbs of the Colts misplayed a punt just 2 minutes, 23 seconds into the game. The Patriots recovered at the Indianapolis 26 drove quickly, as Brady hit Julian Edelman on a 5-yard pass before Blount ran 8 yards to the Colts 13.
Brady’s completion moved him past Peyton Manning (6,800 yards) for most career postseason passing yards. Brady entered the game with 6,791.
New England eventually moved to the 1 and Blount stormed in for the touchdown, his fifth postseason rushing touchdown of his career. That tied him with Curtis Martin and Tom Brady for the franchise lead.
The Colts mounted a 12-play drive on their ensuing possession, but stalled at the New England 33. Adam Vinatieri attempted a 51-yard field goal, but his kick was wide to the right.
The appearance was historic, though. Vinatieri, the former Patriot, was officially playing his 30th postseason game and moved past Jerry Rice for No. 1 on the NFL’s all-time list.
The Patriots’ next drive began with a 12-yard run by Julian Edelman. Two plays later, Brady connected with Shane Vereen on a 30-yard pass that moved the ball to the Indianapolis 17. Later, a 5-yard pass to Edelman moved the ball to the 12 and Blount scampered 4 yards before Brady completed a pass to James Develin.
The fullback’s second effort resulted in a score, as he fought through tacklers and lunged into the end zone. With 1:25 left in the first quarter, New England led 14-0 and a blowout was brewing.
But the tide shifted early in the second quarter, when Brady’s pass to Gronkowski was intercepted by D’Qwell Jackson at the Colts 7.
The drive began with a 9-yard pass completion by Andrew Luck to Dwayne Allen and was aided by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty against Vince Wilfork. Luck later tosses a pinpoint pass to T.Y. Hilton, who gathered the ball along the sidelines and managed to keep both feet in bounds.
That moved the ball to the New England 36. Later, Jamie Collins was whistled for illegal contact for a 5-yard penalty.
Luck completed two passes to Coby Fleener and the ball was on the New England 1. Zurlon Tipton scored and it was 14-7 with 4:17 left in the half.
The Patriots drove 65 yards on their next possession, but Brady failed to complete a pass from the Colts 3. Twice, it appeared Indianapolis defenders made contact with New England receivers without a penalty flag.
A 21-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski made it 17-7 at halftime. The kick gave Gostkowski 109 career postseason points, moving him into eighth on the all-time list.
©2015 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
PHOTOS (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):