FOXBORO, Mass. – The New England Patriots are a game away from their third Super Bowl trip in four years, thanks to a stifling defense that shut down Peyton Manning (search) and his receivers.
Corey Dillon (search) and New England's ball-control offense rushed for more than 200 yards Sunday and kept the NFL's MVP on the sidelines as the Patriots rolled to a 20-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots will be in Pittsburgh for next week's AFC title game.
Tedy Bruschi (search), Willie McGinest and coach Bill Belichick's defense frustrated Manning on all but a couple of drives. Manning is now 0-7 in Foxboro, where he lost his second straight playoff game in the snow.
In the Patriots 24-14 win in last year's AFC championship game, Manning threw four interceptions in a slow, steady snow that fell throughout. On Sunday, a light snow began less than an hour before the game and fell with few interruptions.
The cold temperatures couldn't have helped the Colts, who play their home games in the 72-degree warmth of the RCA Dome. But the conditions were just right for the Patriots' strategy: run the ball, throw short passes and watch the clock tick down. They put together their three most time-consuming drives of the season.
Dillon rushed for 144 yards in his first NFL playoff game in his eight seasons.
Tom Brady threw for one touchdown, ran for another and completed 18 passes in 27 attempts for 144 yards as he improved to 7-0 in playoff games. Manning was 27 for 42 for 238 yards.
New England (15-2) led 6-0 on Adam Vinatieri's field goals of 24 and 31 yards in the second quarter with the first one capping a 16-play, 78-yard march that lasted 9 minutes, 7 seconds.
The only points Indianapolis (13-5) scored came on Mike Vanderjagt's 23-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
When Brady threw a 5-yard scoring pass to David Givens to cap a third-quarter drive that lasted 8:16, Manning had to make his remaining possessions count against the hard-hitting defense.
He didn't — and Brady followed with a drive 94-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard touchdown run.
Facing a 20-3 deficit with 7:10 left, even Manning couldn't do much.
The Patriots proved once again they could win without their best defenders. Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour was sidelined with a knee injury and starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole are on injured reserve.
They did it against a team that had the fifth highest scoring season in NFL history then led Denver 35-3 at halftime of a 49-24 divisional playoff win a week earlier in Indianapolis.
And the season ended for the Colts where it started. They lost the season opener there 27-24 when Vanderjagt missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the final minute.