FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – LeGarrette Blount ran the Patriots into their third straight AFC Championship Game.
The 113-kg back had four touchdown runs and New England kept Andrew Luck from a second straight comeback victory, beating the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 on Saturday night.
Blount scored on three 2-yard runs in the first half, then burst through the right side of the line and rambled 73 yards into the end zone in the second half, where he placed the ball gently on the ground made soggy by a game-long rain. He finished with 166 yards on 24 carries.
On the next series, Luck threw his third interception and the Patriots capitalized with Stevan Ridley’s second touchdown run, a 1-yarder that finished the scoring with 11:12 left.
The Patriots (13-4) will face the winner of the game Sunday between the Broncos and Chargers. It will be in Denver if the Broncos win, and New England will host it if the Chargers win. The Colts (12-6) never led.
“It’s just a great achievement,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we’ve got a locker room full of believers.”
Blount joined Ricky Watters, who had five touchdowns for San Francisco on Jan. 15, 1994, as the only players with four or more in a playoff game. And the six rushing touchdowns by the Patriots tied the 49ers’ total in that game for second most in playoff history.
Blount’s big rushing performance came two weeks after he ran for 189 yards and returned two kickoffs for 145 yards in a 34-20 victory over Buffalo in the regular-season finale.
“He’s got that combination of size, power and quickness and speed,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He can run hard. He can make guys miss and he can go the distance.”
Billed as a matchup between quarterbacks — long-time great Brady and second-year star Luck — the Patriots’ leader was content to hand off while Luck threw an interception on his second pass and never found consistency. He threw two touchdown passes to LaVon Brazill but also threw four interceptions.
Luck had three interceptions a week earlier but led the Colts from a 38-10 deficit early in the third quarter to a 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game.
The Colts trailed 21-12 at halftime against the Patriots and cut it to 29-22 on a 35-yard pass to Brazill with 5:01 left in the third. The Patriots dominated the rest of the way.
Blount’s first touchdown came on New England’s first offensive play after Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Luck’s pass and returned it 27 yards to the 2.
Blount scored again on the Patriots’ second series in which Brady completed all four of his passes.
But Luck responded with a seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by his 38-yard touchdown pass to Brazill, who was guarded closely by Dennard as he made the catch on the left side a few yards from the end zone. Former Patriot Adam Vinatieri set an NFL record with his 59th post-season extra point, making it 14-7.
Brady completed 13 of 25 passes for 198 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Luck was 20 for 41 for 331 yards.
Seahawks outlast Saints
When he got around the edge, there was no one for Marshawn Lynch to hit. Directly ahead was open field, the end zone and the Seattle Seahawks’ place in the NFC Championship Game.
Once again, Lynch overpowered the New Orleans Saints in the postseason.
“That was maybe ‘Beast Mode II.’ I don’t know but it was a very cool way to end that game and give us the score that we needed,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Lynch carried 28 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns and Seattle’s defense flustered Drew Brees and New Orleans in a 23-15 victory Saturday in the NFC divisional playoff game.
“You just don’t know how many more opportunities you’re going to have,” Brees said. “That’s what makes it so tough standing up here and talking about it.”
Steven Hauschka added three field goals in blustery conditions and the top-seeded Seahawks advanced to the NFC title game for the second time. They will host San Francisco or Carolina next Sunday after last reaching the conference title game in the 2005 playoffs.
Seattle shut out the Saints in the first half, got Lynch’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 of the regular season and received a spark from the brief return of Percy Harvin before he left with a concussion. Lynch scored on a 15-yard run in the first half and capped the victory with a 31-yard scoring run with 2:40 left.