The Cincinnati Bengals, the No. 3 seed in the AFC and one of three teams to go undefeated at home during the regular season, couldn’t pull out a home win when it mattered most, falling to the No. 6 Chargers Sunday, 27-10.
As a result of San Diego pulling off the upset, the Patriots will welcome the Indianapolis Colts, the fourth seed, to Gillette Stadium Saturday night in the divisional round.
New England clinched the No. 2 seed in the conference and had a bye during wild-card weekend, the fourth straight year it has earned that privilege.
Sunday night, after the Patriots learned which team they would be hosting, coach Bill Belichick shared some thoughts on Indianapolis during a conference call.
“Obviously, it was an exciting game, watching the Colts and Kansas City,” Belichick said of Indianapolis’ thrilling 45-44 win Saturday. “It was a tremendous performance coming back in the second half. They did a really good job in all three areas of the game.
“It’s a team that’s well-coached and had a real good season: beat two of the best teams in the league, in both the AFC and the NFC. We’ve gotten a little work done on them, but obviously have a lot more to do. We have a short week and have to gear it up and play our best football of the year, try to be competitive against this team.”
In four out of five weeks before their bye, the Colts beat the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos, and they also won in Kansas City, though they also lost to the Dolphins, Rams, and Cardinals.
That they were able to beat top teams, not let losses carry over, and come back the way they did against the Chiefs Saturday — the Colts were down, 31-10 at the half and 38-10 in the third quarter — reminds of the Patriots and their ability to persevere this season.
“I’d say the Colts have shown real good mental toughness this year. Starting out in the beginning of the season, going out and beating San Francisco in San Francisco, that was impressive,” Belichick said. “They obviously went out and beat Kansas City [on the road] a couple of weeks ago pretty decisively. They’ve shown mental toughness, I think, throughout the year. I think they’ve shown a lot of mental toughness.
“Yesterday’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 a sudden in a hurry you could feel them coming back, or at least I could. I think they’re a very explosive and dangerous team.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano talked to reporters Sunday morning, when it was still possible that his team would face Peyton Manning and the Broncos or Tom Brady and the Patriots.
The challenge would be stiff whichever quarterback his team would be facing, Pagano said.
“Both guys have played at a high level for a long, long time. It’s up-tempo. They find a way to get themselves, to get their offense, to get their team in the right play 99 percent of the time,” Pagano said. “They don’t allow you to do certain things from a defensive standpoint. They dictate the tempo. They’re great game managers. They do it all at the line of scrimmage, and there’s nothing that they have not seen and been through.
“With a group back there that’s 100 percent, it’s a huge undertaking. So if guys aren’t 100 percent [healthy] or you’re missing some bodies back there, certainly it makes it even more of a challenge.”
New England and Indianapolis did not face each other in the regular season, the first time since 2002 that’s happened. But they did play in Week 11 in 2012, a 59-24 Patriots home win.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was a rookie then, but even with only two NFL seasons under his belt, he’s quickly shown that he isn’t easily rattled: The win over the Chiefs was the 11th fourth-quarter or overtime comeback in his brief career.
After Luck’s impressive career at Stanford and being the No. 1 overall pick, his success isn’t surprising, Belichick noted, but the coach expounded on what makes him good.
“He’s obviously a smart guy. He works hard, he’s tough, he has good leadership skills,” Belichick said. “He’s athletic, he can make plays with his feet and his arm: scramble plays, designed plays, plays that play out kind of the way they’re drawn up but he can improvise and make plays on his own. He does a good job of seeing down the field. He throws a very good deep ball, has good touch on some of the short and intermediate plays.
“There’s no question he’s a complete football player and one of the top quarterbacks in this league already. 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. And he manages his team well and plays good situational football.”
With the game Saturday night, everything is moved up a day from the usual routine for New England: Coaches will work on the game plan Monday, with installation starting with players Wednesday and practices on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.