FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The bye week is over.
Now the New England Patriots can focus on a major challenge.
How can they stop Andrew Luck?
The quarterback who brought Indianapolis back from a 28-point, third-quarter deficit to a 45-44 win over Kansas City in an AFC wild-card game Saturday will lead the Colts into Gillette Stadium for a divisional-round game Saturday.
There’s no question he’s a complete football player and one of the top quarterbacks in this league already, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday. He has a great career in front of him, but I think he’s already established himself as a very poised and talented player that can do a lot of things to beat you.
The fourth-seeded Colts (12-5) will play in Foxborough for the second straight season. Last season, in Luck’s 10th game as a pro, he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in a 59-24 loss.
But Luck has more experience now and an impressive playoff win on his record. And his teammates kept fighting despite their huge deficit against Kansas City.
They had a couple losses that they bounced right back from with big wins the following week, Belichick said. I think they’ve shown a lot of mental toughness. (Saturday’s) game was about as good as it gets. To be that far behind in the third quarter, it didn’t look too good for them and all (of) the sudden in a hurry you could feel them coming back, or at least I could.
The Patriots’ secondary has been hobbled by injuries. Two starters, safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, missed the 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills that ended the regular season. And cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington have been playing hurt.
But the bye week gave them time to heal and a better chance to stop Luck, who was 29 of 45 for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions against the Chiefs. His 64-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton with 4:21 left capped the comeback. Hilton’s 13 catches for 224 yards broke franchise playoff mark.
He’s, as we saw, a go-to guy, Belichick said. He had a couple hundred yards yesterday, but he’s shown up all year. He’s a big key to it, but Luck has done a good job spreading the ball around.
Saturday’s game will be the fourth in the playoffs between the teams. In the most recent meeting, the Colts made another impressive comeback. With Peyton Manning at quarterback seven years ago, they won the AFC championship 38-34 after trailing the Patriots 21-6 at halftime. That game was in Indianapolis.
Saturday’s will be in Foxborough where the Patriots are 8-0 this season.
For the most part this year, they’ve played mistake-free and have an explosive, well-balanced attack, Belichick said. Obviously, Luck has done a great job and they have a tremendous passing game, but their balance, their running game, their offensive line, production out of their tight ends, has been solid, too.