Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of Sunday’s game.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are back in the AFC title game.
“I know people have counted us out at times, but we have a locker room full of believers,” Brady said.
One of the main reasons for the Patriots advancing to the AFC title game is the play of running back LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 166 yards on 24 carries and had four touchdowns in a 43-22 Divisional Playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night.
The injury riddled Patriots, seeking their first championship since 2004 and the fourth of the Bill Belichick/Brady era, will either visit the Denver Broncos or host the San Diego Chargers next Sunday in their third conference title game in a row.
“We are very disappointed,” said Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. “We came here with a goal, but obviously they were the better team today.”
It will be the eighth time since Belichick became the Patriots coach and Brady the quarterback the team has played to go to the Super Bowl.
“I’m really proud of our football team,” Belichick said after his team ran for a club-record six touchdowns. Blount also recorded the first four-touchdown game in club history.
Blount scored his first three touchdowns from 2 yards out and then ran 73 yards for his fourth score, that one coming in the fourth quarter to re-establish his team’s 14-point lead.
“There’s nothing better than seeing that big guy out in the open field,” Patroits guard Logan Mankins said. “He grabs that other gear from somewhere and he starts moving and you know none of those safeties and corner want to tackle him and they’re not going to tackle him once it’s one on one with him out there and no one else around. It’s fun to watch him.”
With rain falling on and off throughout a balmy night, running back Stevan Ridley scored the other two touchdowns and also ran for a 2-point conversion.
Brady, winning his record 18th postseason game, was 13 of 25 for 198 yards. With the running game thriving, he has completed just 41 passes in the last three games, and his team has won all three, scoring 118 points.
The Patriots, who had run for just four touchdowns in their previous seven playoff games, ran for 234 yards, giving them 643 in the last three games.
Second-year quarterback Andrew Luck, who led the Colts from a 38-10 deficit to a win over Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card game, threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver LaVon Brazill but was picked off four times, twice by corner back Alfonzo Dennard, in the loss.
Luck was 20 of 41 for 331 yards.
Hilton, who caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two scores against Kansas City, caught four passes for 103 yards, while wide receiver Julian Edelman caught six Brady passes.
Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski was used as a punter after a shoulder injury suffered by Ryan Allen on a bad snap that led to a safety, and averaged an impressive 45.8 yards on four kicks before a throw-away 26-yarder in the final minutes.
The win was Belichick’s 19th in the postseason, tying him with Don Shula for second place all time, one win behind Tom Landry.
The heavy rain blanketing the area most of the day had subsided just as the Patriots scored just 2:19 into the game. Brazill should have done more to break up the play, but Dennard picked off the Luck pass and returned it 27 yards to the Colts’ 2. Blount scored on the first play.
New England jumped to a 21-7 lead on the first three Blount scores, but the Colts hung in and trailed 29-22 after the third quarter.
Asked if his team had a successful season, offensive tackle Anthony Costanzo said, “We wanted to win the Super Bowl and we did not so I guess it would have to be a no.”