FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots acquired LeGarrette Blount from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during last April’s draft looking to add some depth at running back.
Instead, they got the power back this team has lacked since Corey Dillon left football.
Blount, acquired for a seventh-round draft pick and Jeff Demps in what will go down as the steal of this season, scored a team record four rushing touchdowns as the Patriots powered past the upstart Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck 43-22 before a drenched gathering at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
The Patriots (13-4) will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the top-seeded Denver Broncos and sixth-seeded San Diego Chargers next Sunday in the AFC championship game. The game will begin at 3 p.m. and will be played in Denver if the Broncos win or at Gillette Stadium if the Chargers win.
It will be New England’s third consecutive appearance in the AFC championship game, where they have a 7-2 record.
Blount scored on three 2-yard touchdown runs in the first half, helping the Patriots take a 21-12 lead after two quarters, then bolted for a 73-yard score on the Patriots first play of the fourth quarter to regain momentum. Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, playing because Brandon Spikes was placed on Injured Reserve last week, continued the game of his life with an interception to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley – his second of the night.
Blount’s four rushing touchdowns set a Patriots record, covering both regular season and playoff games. He also tied Curtis Martin for most rushing yards in a playoff game with 166. The six rushing touchdowns were also a team record for any game, regular season or playoffs.
The Patriots used a power rushing offense to balance the passing of Tom Brady – the same formula they used in winning three Super Bowl championships – to keep Luck off the field as much as possible. The Patriots also intercepted Luck four times, two leading to touchdowns. Alfonzo Dennard had two of the interceptions, Collins and Dont’a Hightower the others.
This was a close game through three quarters, with the Patriots leading 29-22. The Patriots lead 21-12 at the half but the Colts struck first, getting a 21-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to cut it to six. It could have been worse. Indianapolis had a first-and-goal at the 3 and was twice stuffed on runs, setting up an incomplete on third down.
The Patriots, who had been stopped on three consecutive series, immediately responded. Tom Brady began the drive with a 53-yard bomb to Danny Amendola, set up expertly by a beautiful ball fake. A questionable pass interference call against the Colts gave New England a first down at the 5. Three plays later, Stevan Ridley bulled in from the 3 for a touchdown. With holder Danny Allen hurt, the Patriots rushed for the two points, with Ridley again plowing in and it was 29-15.
Andrew Luck and the Colts came right back, needing just three plays to go 80 yards,
Luck hit T.Y. Hilton for 46 yards, then passed 35 yards to LaVon Brazill for the touchdown behind the Patriots defense. It was suddenly 29-22.
The game began almost perfectly for the Patriots.
Alfonzo Dennard, questionable to be even playing because of injuries to his knee and shoulder, intercepted Andrew Luck on the Colts third play of the game, jumping a slant route to LaVon Brazill and then wrestling the ball from Brazill. Dennard returned the pick to the Colts’ 2. From there, LeGarrette Blount bulled in over the left, getting great lead blocks from tiny Matthew Slater and fullback James Devlin. Just 79 seconds into the game, it was 7-0 New England.
The Patriots then forced a punt and came back with a long scoring drive, again capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Blount.
Brady was 4-for-4 on the drive, and no completion was better than the 16-yarder he zipped in through a small window to Danny Amendola. That put the ball on the 7 and two plays later Blount was in, with Maine’s Matthew Mulligan getting a key block.
Indianapolis, which trailed by 28 early in the second half of its wildcard win over Kansas City, came back with Luck hitting Brazill with a 38-yard touchdown, a perfectly-thrown pass down the right sideline. It was 14-7.
The teams exchanged punts, then the Patriots went up 21-7 on Blount’s third 2-yard touchdown of the game, with 10:54 left in the second quarter. The big play on the drive was a 27-yard pass to Julian Edelman in which he pin-balled off several Indianapolis defenders.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it 21-10, then the Colts got a safety on one of the strangest plays you’ll ever see.
On fourth-and-4 from their own 49, the Patriots set up to go for it, then rushed their punting unit out.
Danny Aiken’s snap went over punter Ryan Allen’s head, rolling back to the 3. Allen recovered it there, then tried to run it, or throw it. No one’s sure. The ball was batted out of the end zone and the Colts were awarded a safety that made in 21-12.
Allen injured his shoulder on the ensuing free kick and went to the locker room. Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski took over as punter.
New England’s Dont’a Hightower had another interception of Luck later in the second quarter.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: