Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  Last updated 1/19/15

Bill Belichick is heading to his sixth Super Bowl. Elsa/Getty Images

By Arif Hasan

The football-watching public didn’t get an encore to the adrenaline-filled finish in Seattle, as the New England Patriots earned the AFC title in Foxboro by slowly bulldozing over a lackluster Indianapolis Colts squad that didn’t know what to do with the few chances it had. The 45-7 result somehow seemed closer than the actual flow of the game, and the Colts never felt like they were in it.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will both be seeing their sixth Super Bowls—an NFL record for Tom Brady, who was previously tied with John Elway with five appearances. This gives Brady an opportunity to match his boyhood idol Joe Montana in Super Bowl wins, with four. That would mean that Brady, Montana and Terry Bradshaw would all hold the record for Super Bowl wins if the Patriots come out ahead of the Seattle Seahawks, the NFC champion.

The game started out according to the script, as the massive favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl rolled out to a two-touchdown lead, though one would be hard-pressed to find pundits who correctly guessed it was early running back play that defined the game. Good running from LeGarrette Blount and a phenomenal reception by Shane Vereen provide a perfect counterbalance to Dan Herron’s critical drops on otherwise well-placed passes from Andrew Luck.

With both running games struggling in the postseason, the Patriots decided it was better to dare the Colts to run the ball, while on their end they tried to bury the Colts early with significant runs from Blount.

The Patriots regularly played in nickel packages, with four cornerbacks and one safety on the field, on traditional running downs, and even though the Colts would take advantage of some of those opportunities, the big gains on the ground were to be had on the other side of the ball.

It should have been a story familiar to the Colts, who were the victims of Jonas Gray’s lone appearance on the national scene—a 37 carry romp for 201 yards and four touchdowns. In that game, the Patriots ran heavy, with as many as seven offensive linemen on the field in order to exploit Arthur Jones’ absence and known weaknesses in the Colts’ run defense.

With Arthur Jones back and the Patriots’ run game seemingly stagnant, it didn’t look to be a formula anyone could reasonably expect to repeat. But with errant throws from Tom Brady at times, and poor play from receivers at other times, the Patriots had to rely on the running game until things got out of hand—at which point, it didn’t matter.

New England also saw fit to play more with the ineligible receiver rule that stymied John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round and though it resulted in a highlight touchdown for offensive tackle Nate Solder, it didn’t materially impact the game.

In some ways, the Patriots were lucky that an extremely inconsistent passing game—paired with a seemingly meaningless early interception—didn’t hurt them, but the defense deserves credit for strong stands to help buffer their eventual lead.

Andrew Luck was held to 126 yards on 33 attempts, the worst yards per attempt in Andrew Luck’s NFL career—playoffs or not. While some bad throws and worse drops may be the story Colts fans walk away with, smart interior blitzes and fantastic play from Rob Ninkovich forced throws from Luck and kept the secondary clean. Even without that help, Darrelle Revis played well enough to help secure the win.

Though the Colts had defensive standouts in Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, it looked like the roster was simply outmatched everywhere else. Worrisome play from the offensive line, receivers and running backs dragged down Luck’s performance, while the defense found it difficult to stop anything consistently enough to be a factor.

Belichick will be meeting the coach he succeeded at New England, Pete Carroll, in the Super Bowl and both had exceedingly brief stays at the New York Jets as head coaches as well.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.


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