FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots returned to the Super Bowl in dominant fashion. In an efficient performance that made the AFC championship game every bit as routine and uninspiring as the NFC title game earlier Sunday was compelling, the Patriots overwhelmed the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, on a soggy evening at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots will face the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1 in Arizona in their sixth Super Bowl appearance with Bill Belichick as their coach and Tom Brady as their quarterback.
New England, which will be seeking its fourth Super Bowl victory with Brady and Belichick, last won in the 2004 season. Sunday’s game was the ninth AFC championship game appearance overall and fourth in a row for Brady and Belichick.
“I’m thankful he’s our quarterback,” Belichick said. “There’s nobody I’d rather have.”
Brady threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns, and tailback LeGarrette Blount ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots tied their franchise record for points in a postseason game. One weekend after having to overcome a pair of 14-point deficits to get past the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots raced to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and hardly were threatened.
Brady’s touchdown throws went to fullback James Develin, offensive tackle Nate Solder on yet another trick play and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady exited the field to a loud ovation when he was replaced by backup Jimmy Garoppolo in the final minutes.
Andrew Luck’s career record against the Patriots dropped to 0-4. He has thrown 10 interceptions in those four games, including two Sunday. He completed only 12 of 33 passes in his first AFC title game. Luck failed in his bid to oust Brady from the playoffs one weekend after eliminating another quarterback legend, Peyton Manning, and the Denver Broncos.
“Not much went right today,” Luck said. “Long day. They obviously outplayed us and deserve to move on.”
The Patriots had topped 200 rushing yards against the Colts in each of the teams’ previous two meetings. One came during last season’s playoffs. The other came this season in November in Indianapolis, a 42-20 New England triumph in which unheralded tailback Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
Gray was active Sunday after being on the Patriots’ inactive list the previous weekend against the Ravens. But this time, the Patriots leaned on Blount in the running game. He re-signed with the Patriots this season after his release by the Pittsburgh Steelers for walking off the field just before a game ended.
Blount’s one-yard touchdown run gave the Patriots the early lead Sunday, and they made it 14-0 later in the first quarter on Brady’s one-yard touchdown pass to Develin.
The Colts got back to within seven points on a one-yard touchdown run by tailback Zurlon Tipton in the second quarter. That came after Brady forced a pass into tight coverage toward Gronkowski and it was intercepted. No matter. The Patriots got a 21-yard field goal by place kicker Stephen Gostkowski nine seconds before halftime, then dipped into their offensive bag of tricks in the third quarter.
The Patriots had confused the Ravens by using formations that included only four offensive linemen and an eligible receiver reporting as ineligible. The gimmick irked Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, who complained to the officials during the game and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. He said afterward that the officials had not given the Ravens long enough time before the snap to adjust to the announcement of which eligible receiver was ineligible. But the NFL called the Patriots’ wrinkle legal.
The crowd cheered Sunday each time the officials announced that either an ineligible player had reported as eligible or an eligible receiver had reported as ineligible. The Patriots used each tactic. Yet the Colts left Solder uncovered when he reported as eligible in the third quarter, and he caught Brady’s pass and turned it into a 16-yard touchdown.
The Patriots poured it on from there as the rainfall intensified. Brady threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski, and after a pass by Luck was intercepted by cornerback Darrelle Revis, Blount ran for a 13-yard touchdown.
“To make it to this point is a great accomplishment for our team,” Brady said. “Hopefully the best is yet to come.”