Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts roll in to Gillette stadium on the back of one of the greatest comeback wins in playoff history when they overcame the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend 45-44. Luck engineered a comeback which saw him bounce back from 3 interceptions in the game to tally up a total of 443 yards as well as 4 touchdown passes along with 29 completions out of 45 attempts.
It was Luck’s first playoff victory and the second largest comeback in postseason history as the Colts bounced back from 38-10 deficit. Tonight they face the New England Patriots who have stared adversity full in the face throughout this 2013 season. The Patriots have found a way to win all year throughout various tough spots and scenarios with the team finishing the year 12-4. Middle linebacker Bradon Spikes went down this week ending his season which means that he joins the likes of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Thomas Kelly which shows how depleted this defense core is plus it is impossible to forget that on offense superstar Rob Gronkowski is out with an ACL and MCL injury but we’ll get to that later.
Despite the injuries on defense Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones have been shining stars all year with the two combining for 19.5 sacks this season. Jones is in his sophomore season and leads the New England pass rush with 11.5 sacks. Fellow sophomore Dont’a Hightower will suit up at running back along with athletic linebackers Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins so although they are thin at key positions they have the talent to succeed. These linebackers will need to stop in form Colts running back Donald Brown who continues to impress; last week he had 55 yards from 11 carries and a touchdown. Jones and Ninkovich are no slouches in the running game either so despite the fact that pass rushers don’t traditionally shine against the running game the fact that they are willing to do dirty work to help the team is typically of the Patriot way and the winning identity Bill Belichick puts in his men.
To get to where they are is a testament to Belichick as a head coach and in the playoffs we know anything can happen so if this Patriots team did manage to win the Super Bowl it would surely be his greatest achievement to date. His main challenge tonight is to stop Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton who is coming in to this match on the back of his best career game with him going off last weekend as he caught two touchdowns and finished with 224 receiving yards. The Patriots secondary will have a tough challenge against him but we’ll hope that the likes of Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty can stop his blistering speed with smart defensive blame to limit his output; Hilton had 100 yards and 2 touchdown passes when the two teams went head to head in 2012.
The last time these two teams met New England destroyed the Colts 59-24 but a lot has changed since then. Andrew Luck continues to show why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league already despite it only being his second year; he has 11 game-winning drives in his career already and with a record of 22-10 Luck has one more win that Tom Brady from his first 32 career games (21-11). With that being said Tom Brady may not be having one of his best seasons statistically but as a leader there is nobody better as he has managed to pull his team out of many deep holes this year with late victories over the Saints and Browns as well as rallying back from a 24-0 deficit to defeat the high flying Denver Broncos!
More than likely the winner of tonight’s matchup will face Denver in the AFC Championship game which sets up a mouthwatering encounter either way. Tom Brady and this Patriots team seem to have a feel of destiny around them with a win tonight setting them up with a shot at reaching another Super Bowl, the 6th of the Belichick-Brady era. Despite losing Rob Gronkowski to another season ending injury, Wes Welker to the Broncos and Aaron Hernandez to unforeseen circumstances New England continue to grind out victories this season. If anything despite their problems they have gone back to basics in recent weeks following Gronk’s injury against Cleveland and have established a power running game with LaGarrette Blount leading the way by decimating opposing offenses. His season is picking up at the right time with the 27 year old running back becoming a key part of New England’s offense heading in to the postseason; he set a team-record 344 all-purpose yards along with a personal best 189 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the season finale against Buffalo.
|Brady and Blount celebrating|
Along with Blount the Patriots have Stevan Ridley who is perfect for the one-two punch running game to go with Blount. Ridley has speed and elusiveness which can go a long way to helping the Pats succeed in the playoffs providing he can cut out the high profile fumbling issues that surround him. Thankfully the emergence of Blount takes the pressure of of Ridley as being labelled as the team’s primary running back and when you take in to account that fellow back Shane Vereen is one of Tom Brady’s favourite targets it shows you the talent the Patriots still have on this team despite their many losses. Vereen is a valuable weapon in a depleted passing game with him turning up in the big games like the one against the Broncos earlier in the season. Vereen missed a chunk of games with a broken wrist but has 427 yards and 3 touchdown receptions on the year and he will be an asset to this offense heading in to win or go home time.
The key tonight will be the success of the Pats offense as Tom Brady has the ability and the know how to pick off weak points in the Indianapolis secondary. He will use the run game whenever necessary and thanks to its success he can rely on play-action plays which he executes to perfection. Brady has a 99.8 passer rating on play-action passes this season in comparison to his general passer rating for the year of 87.3. Despite the statistics he has improved in the second half of the year and finished the regular season with 4,343 passing yards along with 25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The offensive line will need to protect the superstar quarterback from the Colts’ main pass rusher Robert Mathis who has been rejuvenated this year with the 33 year old playing one of the best seasons of his illustrious career; he leads the league with 19.5 sacks this season and when you consider the team themselves have 42 on the year that is outstanding.
Brady has Julian Edeleman in the passing game to rely on like he has done throughout most of 2013 especially when Gronk missed the early part of the season and since his season ending injury. Julian Edelman defines what a Bill Belichick player is all about as he is so productive in the head coaches system and has come up big with Brady in many matches this year. For the first time in his career Edeleman hauled in over 100 catches and racked up over 1000 receiving yards as he finished the regular season with 6 touchdowns. With rookie wideout Aaron Dobson ruled out and Kenbrell Thompkins questionable it falls to the likes of Edelman, Vereen and 2013 summer acquisition Danny Amendola to get things done for Terrific Tom in the passing game. Personally I feel now is the time for Amendola to shine as he has shown his toughness to overcome injuries and he clearly has a good rapport with Brady that will be effective enough to come up big when it matters most which is now in the playoffs.
Despite a troublesome groin injury and some growing pains in this offense Amendola ended the regular season with 663 receiving yards and two touchdowns. With the Patriots’ playoff journey starting tonight Amendola will need to pull his weight and ensure he can reach Edelman’s level of production so that Brady has two valuable and reliable wideouts. The playoffs are a clean slate and anything can happen which is something we have seen a lot over recent years as getting hot can end with your team lifting that Lombardi trophy high in the sky. Tom Brady and the Patriots may be 7-7 in the postseason since 2005, he started his career with 10 straight postseason wins, but Terrific Tom holds the record for most playoff victories with 17. Three more wins would leave him on an unprecedented 20 victories in crunch time and with a 4th Super Bowl ring from 6 appearances in the big one cementing his place as the greatest QB to play the game. Each of the last three times the Colts and Patriots have gone head to head in the postseason has resulted in the winner going on to win the Super Bowl so whoever comes out on top tonight could well go on to win it all come February 2nd at MetLife Stadium. For the Patriots they always confront adversity full in the face and a victory tonight will show their metal. Defying the odds are what great teams are made of so if Tom Brady and co pull out a win tonight who’s to say that can’t go all the way because when the games on the line there’s nobody better than Brady to lead your team in to battle.
|It’s playoff time!|