Published January 12, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – This time, there was no stunning comeback for Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
Just a handful of frustrating mistakes, some missed opportunities and now a long offseason to imagine what could have been.
Luck threw four interceptions and the Colts gave up four touchdown runs by LeGarrette Blount and two by Stevan Ridley as the New England Patriots advanced to the AFC championship game with a 43-22 victory Saturday night.
"I'm just disappointed in myself," Luck said. "I can't commit that many turnovers and have a chance to win against a great team like this."
The Colts (12-6) were coming off a stunning 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in which they overcame a 38-10 third-quarter deficit in the wild-card game for the second-biggest comeback victory in NFL playoffs history.
They fell behind 14-0 early in this one, but were within a touchdown — down 29-22 — entering the fourth quarter. But Blount, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots' offense pulled away.
"We never stopped fighting and we had our chances and just couldn't get over that hump," said Luck, who threw two touchdown passes to LaVon Brazill. "The Patriots deserved to win."
Billed as a matchup between marquee 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's a good quarterback, man," Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said. "We just tried to put pressure on him. That's about the best thing you can do is to put pressure on him. And try to make him force some throws."
Luck had three interceptions a week earlier, but led the Colts to their impressive comeback against the Chiefs. 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 (13-4) dominated the rest of the way and advanced to play the winner of Sunday's San Diego-Denver game in the AFC championship.
"We had our chances, man, to make plays and get our offense back on the field," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. "Last game, we were able to do that, but it was a great quarterback, a great offense and a great team we were facing. We dug ourselves a hole we couldn't dig out of."
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 21-yard field goal on Indianapolis' first possession of the second half to make it 21-15, but the Colts could have had more.
Luck completed consecutive passes of 40 yards to T.Y. Hilton and 16 to Coby Fleener to get the ball to the Patriots 4, but New England made a nice defensive stand to keep Indianapolis out of the end zone.
Brady came out on the Patriots' next offensive play and connected with a wide-open Danny Amendola for 53 yards. New England moved down the field with an efficient nine-play, 88-yard drive that was capped by Ridley pushing his way into the end zone. He then made it a two-touchdown game with a 2-point conversion.
Then, as he did last week against Kansas City, Luck showed he can put up points in a hurry, too. First, he completed a 46-yard pass to Hilton and then hit Brazill for the 35-yard score.
But the comeback bid was short-lived.
Blount burst through the right side of the line early in the fourth quarter and rambled 73 yards into the end zone. He finished with 166 yards on 24 carries.
On the next series, Luck threw his third interception and the Patriots capitalized with Ridley's second touchdown run, a 1-yarder that finished the scoring with 11:12 left.
"It's just a great achievement," Brady said. "People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we've got a locker room full of believers."
On the Colts' third play of the game from scrimmage — third-and-2 from their 28 — Luck threw a short pass for Brazill that Alfonzo Dennard got his hands on and snatched from the receiver. Dennard ran down the right sideline before stepping out of bounds at the 2.
Brady & Co. wasted no time getting on the scoreboard with a handoff to Blount, who went off left tackle and into the end zone to give New England the lead 1:19 into the game.
"We just couldn't get a rhythm early," said Luck, who finished 20 of 41 for 331 yards. "And that first series interception, to put our defense in that position is inexcusable. And that's on me."
NOTES: Vinatieri, a former Patriots star, set the NFL mark with his 59th career playoff extra point after Brazill's first score. ... The Colts got a safety with 2:12 remaining in the first half when rookie punter Ryan Allen's fumble was declared dead in the end zone. Danny Aiken's snap to Allen floated way over the punter's head and Allen recovered it near the 3, but had it knocked out of his hands by Andy Studebaker. The Colts' Jeris Pendleton went for the loose ball, but inadvertently slapped it out of the end zone.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org