FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady has been leading successful comebacks for more than a decade. Andrew Luck is just getting started.
One of them should have a chance to do that again tonight.
The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, who have overcome big deficits this season, will meet in the AFC divisional round.
The Colts are here with the second-biggest comeback in NFL postseason history. They outlasted the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game 45-44 after trailing 38-10 early in the third quarter.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Brady said. “Down 28 points there in the third quarter, they just made a bunch of good plays and it took them until the very end to win.”
The Colts had other impressive comebacks in the regular season – beating Houston after trailing by 18 in the third quarter and overcoming fourth-quarter deficits to win three other games.
Easing up with a big lead on the Patriots also can be dangerous.
They erased a 24-point halftime deficit to beat Denver in overtime, topped New Orleans on a touchdown pass with 5 seconds left and scored two touchdowns in the last 61 seconds to come from 12 points back and beat Cleveland by one.
Brady “has definitely set the standard for success at the quarterback position,” Luck said.
The Patriots’ quarterback has led them to 41 wins in games in which they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. Luck has 11 of those, the most by a quarterback in his first two seasons since 1970.
This season, the Patriots (12-4) are 8-4 in games decided by seven points or fewer, while the Colts (12-5) are 6-1 when the final margin is six or fewer.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games. They’ve been in a lot of close games,” Brady said. “They find a way to win them. That’s how they got to this point. Hopefully, we can go out and be the team that goes out on top.”
Here are five things to watch for as the Patriots try to advance to their third straight AFC championship game:
Injuries keep coming
Each team had a starter added this week to a long list of injuries. Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes went on injured reserve with a knee injury, and Colts cornerback Greg Toler went on his team’s list with a groin injury. New England already had lost for the season linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Indianapolis has been without wide receiver Reggie Wayne, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, linebacker Pat Angerer and offensive guard Donald Thomas for much of the season.
The Patriots are coming off their best ground game of the season with 267 yards. With rain likely for their second straight game, another solid rushing attack would help. LeGarrette Blount has emerged as the top runner after rushing for 189 yards in the regular-season finale, a 34-20 win over Buffalo.
“I just try to be more cautious with the football (in the rain), keep the football secure,” Blount said. “I’m not too worried about my footing. There’s nothing you can really do about it.”
Here comes Mathis
The Colts’ linebacker led the NFL with a team-record 19 1/2 sacks then added a strip-sack of Kansas City’s Alex Smith that led to a Colts fumble recovery last Saturday. He has five career sacks against Brady, the most against any quarterback not in the Colts’ division.
“He’s a great player,” Brady said. “You try to put guys around him and double team him, but he still seems to be making all the plays. I just know I don’t have a lot of time back there in the pocket to sort things out.”
The last time
Neither team is putting much stock in the Patriots’ 59-24 rout of the Colts last season when Luck threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Both teams have made numerous personnel changes since then, and Luck has progressed since his rookie season, lowering his interceptions from 18 to nine.
“He’s done such a great job this year from year one to year two in managing the offense and managing the game and taking care of the football,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We had the fewest amount of turnovers in the league this year at 14, and I know we had (four) last week, but he does a great job of putting that behind him.”
Two of last weekend’s four playoff games were decided by field goals on the last play. And the Colts and Patriots have two of the NFL’s top kickers. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski led the NFL in scoring for the second straight season with 158 points. Adam Vinatieri, in his eighth season with Indianapolis after 10 with New England, holds the NFL postseason record with 49 field goals and 205 points.
Gostkowski said it doesn’t matter that he’s facing his predecessor with the Patriots.
“Unless he’s trying to come block the kick or he’s going to be back there returning it, it’s just another game,” he said.
Notes: Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) will not play today. Starting safety LaRon Landry and backup linebacker Josh McNary are listed as probable. Both have been full participants in practice this week after being diagnosed with concussions. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who got some extra rest this week, and offensive lineman Khaled Holmes (calf) were listed as probable on the injury report.