Patriots punch Super Bowl ticket with rout
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are headed to a special place where no coach or player has gone more — the Super Bowl.
They earned their trip with the second most lopsided AFC championship victory ever.
The New England Patriots dominant duo earned a sixth trip to the Super Bowl with a 45-7 wipeout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game before a raucous, rain-soaked crowd Sunday night.
Scoring touchdowns on their first four second-half possessions, the Patriots (14-4) moved on to face defending champion Seattle (14-4) for the NFL title on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. Belichick will face Pete Carroll, whom he replaced as Patriots coach 2000. The Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime in the NFC title game.
"I only have one thing to say. We're on to Seattle," Belichick said, echoing the statement he repeated several times, "We're on to Cincinnati," after a 41-14 loss at Kansas City dropped the Patriots to 2-2.
Brady threw three touchdown passes, LeGarrette Blount ran 30 times for 148 yards and three scores and the Patriots charged away after leading just 17-7 at halftime.
"I know we've had some ups and downs this year," Brady said, "but right now we're up, baby, and we're going to try to stay up for one more game."
In his first year as a starter, Brady led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win in the 2001 season, starting a run of three championships in four years. Now he and Belichick have a chance for their first in 10 years.
The list of milestones is long:
— Brady surpassed John Elway for most Super Bowls for a quarterback and tied defensive lineman Mike Lodish for most by any player.
— Belichick tied Don Shula for most Super Bowls for a coach and broke a tie with Tom Landry with his 21st postseason win.
— New England tied Dallas and Pittsburgh for most appearances in the big game with eight.
Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards before being replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo with 3:20 left. Brady went to the sideline where he was embraced by Belichick. Moments earlier, while sitting on the bench, Brady was shown on the video board with soaked hair. He pumped his fist in the air 12 times then slapped hands with teammates.
The biggest blowout in AFC title history was Buffalo's 51-3 win over the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1990 season.
For Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, it was the worst game of his three-year career and the fourth rout in his four career games against the Patriots, all by at least three touchdowns. He completed 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
"My play wasn't up to par to give you a chance to beat a great team," he said.
He lost 43-22 in last season's divisional playoff with Blount rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns. And on Nov. 16, he lost 43-22 as Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
"It's a very disappointing loss," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We'll learn from this. We'll grow from this."
When Luck threw an interception that Darrelle Revis late in the third quarter, Blount ran 13 yards for the touchdown that made it 38-7.
One fan held up a sign: "No Luck In Our House"
But there was plenty of skill — and a touch of surprise — from the Patriots.
Eight days after baffling Baltimore with a four-man offensive linemen formation that drew a loud protest from Ravens coach John Harbaugh in the Patriots 35-31 divisional win, Belichick called a pass to left tackle Nate Solder, who was eligible, that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown that made it 24-7 with just under five minutes gone in the third quarter.
The Patriots kept rolling with touchdowns on each of their next three series — a 5-yard pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski, and Blount's runs of 13 and 2 yards.
"He made some great cuts in not good conditions," Belichick said of Blount. "He's a tough guy to tackle."
All that added up to a shot at another championship for the Patriots after losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Turnovers led to two of the three touchdowns in the first half.
Josh Cribbs fumbled a punt after the Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession and Darius Fleming recovered at the Colts 26. Six plays later, Blount scored on a 1-yard run.
The Patriots took a 14-0 lead with just over a minute left in the first quarter on Brady's 1-yard pass to James Develin, the 11th catch in 37 career games for the blocking back, and were driving again.
But with a first-and-10 at the Colts 26, Brady threw a pass that was picked off by D'Qwell Jackson.
Starting from his 7-yard line, Luck marched the Colts 93 yards to a 1-yard touchdown run by Zurlon Tipton with 4:54 left in the half. Luck set up the score with a 36-yard completion to T.Y. Hilton that put the ball at the Patriots 31 and consecutive 11-yard completions to Coby Fleener on the play before Tipton scored.
Then the Colts defense came up with a big stand, forcing Brady into three straight incompletions from their 3. The Patriots settled for Stephen Gostkowski's 21-yard field goal nine seconds before intermission.