For the third straight year, the New England Patriots are heading to the AFC Championship Game. As a fan of the team, it is pretty amazing to see how lucky we are, because we have a quarterback and a coach that are able to sustain this level of success over a long period of time, not only staying competitive, but staying near the top of the league.
It wasn’t perfect, but last night’s effort was more than enough to get past the Colts, and earn a spot in the AFC title game. It also showed the rest of the NFL that the Patriots will be a tough out, and whoever plays them next week will have their hands full.
Shortly after the conclusion of last night’s game, I posted three quick takeaways I had from the contest. Those can be read here. However there can never be enough Patriot analysis, so here comes three additional thoughts on the New England win.
1. Rushing Attack Makes Pats Dangerous
I know that this is a bit of a repeat from last night, but it is worth talking about again. The biggest reason that the Pats have failed to win the big one over the last couple of years, has been because they couldn’t run the football. They were far too reliant on Tom Brady and the passing attack, and when that failed, they lost. But this year is different. The Patriots have a running game, and that was on full display last night. They ran for 234 and six touchdowns, but more importantly in my mind, they had 46 rushes in the game. Up until the fourth quarter, even though they were running the ball a lot, there wasn’t a lot of yards being gained. But the Pats stuck to it, and eventually LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley got going, and they ran the Patriots to victory. What makes having a running game so great, is it will open up the passing attack for Brady and company. Whoever they play going forward will focus on stopping the ground attack, and that will allow Brady to do what Brady does best, which is move the ball through the air. That is why I think this game proved that New England is extremely dangerous on offense, because they now have an explosive rushing game to go along with their aerial attack.
2. Defensive Front Rises Up
Most of the praise being heaped onto the Pats defense following this win was given to the back end. They came up with four interceptions, and made a lot of the big plays in this game. But the front seven played admirably as well, and they deserve a shout-out for their work. The Colts ran for a mere 69 yards (only a 3.3 average), Andrew Luck was sacked three times, and he was hit 10 times. Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins led the charge, but this entire group played very well, and it will give them confidence heading into the AFC Championship Game. Dont’a Hightower had a good game as well, snatching an interception off of Stanley Havili’s shoulder, and making plays in the running game. Sealver Siliga continued his strong run, playing solid against the run, and getting into the backfield on a pass rush a few times as well. If the Broncos win today, this unit will have to bring this intensity to Denver next week, because pressuring Peyton is the number one thing you have to do, to shut down his offense.
3. Special Teams Situation
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski did a great job of filling in for injured punter Ryan Allen last night, punting five times for an average of 41.8 yards. But as he says in the post-game, he thinks that this will be the last time that he has to punt the ball. This means that if Allen’s injury is serious, New England will have to find a new punter for next week’s game. However Allen has done a terrific job this year (aside from a bad decision to pick up the ball in this game), and if it is at all possible, the Pats would like to keep him punting the ball throughout the rest of the 2014 playoffs. As a result of Allen’s injury, quarterback Tom Brady was forced into the holder duties on Gostkowski’s extra points, and while Brady didn’t know what to say, he managed to pull it off just fine. But just like Gostkowski punting the ball, this should be the last time that we see Brady being the holder.