By Gregory Hunt
On paper, it seems that the New England Patriots ought to have an easy time defeating the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship Game. After all, since quarterback Andrew Luck arrived in Indianapolis in 2012, he has lost all three of his games against the Patriots by an average score of 48-22. Back on November 16, the Patriots went into Lucas Oil Stadium and defeated the Colts 42-20 despite New England quarterback Tom Brady uncharacteristically throwing a pair of interceptions.
However, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is taking the Colts very seriously. During his weekly conference call with the media on Monday, Belichick stressed that the Colts are now a much better team than the one he saw in Week 11.
"I think they've improved in every area," Belichick said. "(They've) gotten more production in their running game with the backs and (wide receiver Donte) Moncrief's become more a part of the passing game. Defensively, I think getting (defensive end Arthur) Jones back has definitely helped them. They're playing just good team defense. They've got (return specialist Josh) Cribbs in the return game, so he gives them an explosive player there."
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels agrees.
"Like most good teams do as the season progresses, they just continue to get better," said McDaniels. "They've maintained consistency in terms of the things that they try to do. I know we had some success in the first game, but this is a totally different week, a totally different game, and I'm sure it'll be different on Sunday."
Overall, the Patriots have a five-game winning streak against the Colts, including a 43-22 win at Gillette Stadium in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2014. The last Colts victory over New England came at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009, when current Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning still played for Indianapolis. That game was the infamous "4th-and-2" game in which New England turned the ball over on downs deep in their own territory late in the 4th quarter. This led to a Colts touchdown that gave them a 35-34 comeback victory.
The Colts have not won at Gillette Stadium since November 6, 2006, when Manning passed for 326 yards to lead Indianapolis to a 27-20 victory.
A major factor in New England's recent success over Indy has been dominance in the running game. In the game last November, running back Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns. In the game last January, running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns. However, in New England's Divisional Playoff Game last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots rushed for only 14 yards, the lowest total by a winning team in NFL playoff history. Blount carried the ball only three times while Gray was inactive due to an ankle injury. Gray's status for the AFC Championship Game is uncertain.
Sunday's game will be New England's 11th trip to the AFC Championship Game. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers, with 15 appearances, have played in this game more often. The Patriots are 7-3 in their previous conference championship game appearances. Prior to the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, the Patriots advanced once to the AFL Championship Game, losing to the San Diego Chargers 51-10 on January 5, 1964.
For more Patriots news and updates, visit Patriots Central.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.
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