In an era in which staying on top of the game for two or three years seems difficult, the New England Patriots, with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as the constants through their period of excellence, reach a sixth Super Bowl after crushing the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship game.
A Sixth Super Bowl in 14 seasons, something no other franchise has managed to do: Not the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers or San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in 10 years, but they’re still getting there on an average of three years more or less. In a league with incredible parity and competition to be among the last two standing, it’s incredible not just that the Patriots are doing it so often, but that they’re in the picture of contention every season.
There’s no surprise to the shellacking they gave the Colts, who have Andrew Luck but no running game and a head coach who was clearly out of his league. In the four meetings (regular season and playoff) between the two teams since 2012, the Patriots have won four times, winning by an average of 29 points, averaging 47.3 points per contest, turning the ball over just three times compared with the Colts’ 12 and post a QBR of 82.9 to Andrew Luck’s 43.8.
Once again the Patriots had their way with the Colts through running the ball. Just like last year’s playoff, it was LeGarrette Blount who did most of the damage, rushing for 148 yards and scoring three touchdowns. And to think Blount was a mid-season pickup after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Belichick was criticized in recent years and especially this season after the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs regarding his transfer policy and signing decisions. Turns out he hasn’t lost his touch – it simply took him some time to build the strongest team that Patriots have had in at least three or four seasons.
Andrew Luck had no success whatsoever in bringing the ball down the field, unless it was short, simple and not dangerous. He threw two interceptions, completed only 12-of-33 passes for 126 yards and finished with a passer rating of 23. He was 1-of-11 on throws for more than 10 yards downfield, and saw pressure on more than half of his dropbacks. He did avoid the sack, but completed only 4-of-15 passes when under duress.
So are the Colts just missing a few pieces of improving around Luck, or is this something bigger, deeper? Is Chuck Pagano a good enough coach to, at some point, take the Colts over the hump that right now seems like the Patriots, who aren’t going anywhere, despite the misleading signs from earlier this season? Or maybe upgrading in that department, the coaching staff or head coach position specifically takes them to where they want to get?
This has been an incredible season for the Patriots. Not just their long winning streak in the middle of it and reaching the Super Bowl after missing the previous two, but also giving Tom Brady a new “lease on life” after earlier in the year it looked like he had one foot planted in retirement. Suddenly the defense is close to elite again, and the offense is incredible difficult to stop or understand. For now they seem like slight underdogs for the Superbowl, but that’s also exactly where they want to be.