FOXBOROUGH — Going up against one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, the Patriots had a pretty simple defensive game plan: Keep everything in front of them, and make Andrew Luck work hard for everything he got.
Getting four interceptions doesn’t hurt the cause, either.
The Patriots’ secondary gave up 331 passing yards, but Luck completed less than half of his passes, and was picked off four times. The job the Patriots did against the Colts’ passing attack was key in Saturday night’s 43-22 win, a victory that sends the Patriots to the AFC Championship game.
Luck was 20 for 41, and was sacked three times. His favorite target, T.Y. Hilton, was held to four catches.
“I thought ‘Qib did a great job on him, making everything tough,” said safety Devin McCourty, crediting cornerback Aqib Talib, who drew Hilton most of the night. “It’s hard to go into a game [against] a guy that gets targeted a lot and is their main weapon, and say he’s not going to get a catch.”
Alfonzo Dennard had two interceptions, and a pair of linebackers — Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins — had their first career picks.
The secondary’s primary focus?
“Trying not to give up big plays, and I thought it was key for our D-line and our secondary to work together,” McCourty said. “For them to get pressure, and then it was big for us to take advantage of the opportunities we had, making those interceptions was huge.”
Spikes was tardy
Linebacker Brandon Spikes won’t play in any more games for the Patriots this season, since he was placed on injured reserve Monday. There’s also a chance Spikes has played his last game for the Patriots, since he’s about to become a free agent.
Reportedly, Spikes’s inability to get to practice during the bye week played a major hand in the decision to place him on IR. It also could ensure that he won’t be re-signed.
According to an ESPN report on Saturday, Spikes was late for practice Jan. 3, the Friday before wild-card weekend. The Patriots didn’t play that weekend but the team had a full week of practice.
That was the day a major storm hit the area, dropping up to 2 feet of snow overnight. The Patriots had a 10 a.m. practice scheduled for that day, with rookies expected for a meeting well before that.
Spikes posted a series of messages on his Twitter account that morning that seemed to indicate he might have trouble getting to Gillette Stadium. At 7:04: “I can’t get out my driveway.” Ten minutes later, he tweeted, “Help!!!” and included a photo of his car, which was surrounded by snow. Three minutes later, his last snow-related message, he used an expletive to describe his situation. Spikes tweeted at 9:07 a.m. that day; his next tweet came at 11:30 a.m.
The media had access to practice that day — it was really a walkthrough inside the climate-controlled field house — but players were not in uniform and difficult to identify, and the duration of media access was brief.
The ESPN report said that Spikes’s inability to arrive at practice on time was the last straw, and the decision to place him on season-ending IR was a mutual one. He also has been dealing with a knee injury for much of the season, and told the Globe late in the regular season that it would require surgery once the season was over.
Spikes was a second-round selection by the Patriots in 2010, and just finished his fourth season. According to team statistics, Spikes had his most productive season this year, with a career-high 134 tackles (second on the team, behind Hightower), one interception, and one fumble recovery.
The decision to place Spikes on IR, instead of releasing him, might have been done to prevent him from signing with another playoff team. It also means that Spikes will continue to get paid for this season.
The two players listed as questionable to play against the Colts — receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and Dennard — both played. The Patriots had ruled receiver Aaron Dobson out on Friday; he reinjured his foot in the regular-season finale, and hasn’t practiced since.
With Dobson out, the team needed six more inactives. Those were all healthy scratches: defensive back Justin Green, tight end D.J. Williams, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, offensive lineman Chris Barker, and defensive linemen Isaac Sopoaga and Jake Bequette.
Perhaps as a nod to either the Bruins or Red Sox — or both — Logan Mankins was sporting a massive playoff beard when he met with the media this week. Most NHL players won’t shave while they’re still playing Stanley Cup playoff games; the Red Sox turned the facial growth into a team-rallying march to the World Series title.
So, Mankins was asked, is his bushy beard a full-season effort?
“No, it’s not a full season, but it’s a good part of it. I was glad I had it [Wednesday], because it was pretty cold out there,” Mankins said.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich might rival Mankins for fullest beard at the start of the playoffs. He, too, has had it for much of the season.
Is there a competition between the two?
“Rob, he’s got a nice beard,” Mankins said. “I think he’s got some PEDs in there or something, but it looks good.”
It worked for the Red Sox, who had almost every player joining the cause come the playoffs. Mankins noticed, but he wouldn’t say if the Patriots’ playoff beards are better than those from the Red Sox.
“I don’t know. Those guys, they looked good. Especially the ones with gray in [them]. Those ones are always my favorites,” Mankins said.
A third dimension
Dogged for much of the regular season with converting third downs, the Patriots excelled in that area against the Colts. They were successful on six of their first seven third-down plays, and finished the game 11 for 18.
In the regular season, the Patriots converted only 37.6 percent on third down.
Lost in the Colts signing former Patriots receiver Deion Branch days before the game was Patriots receiver Austin Collie facing his former team for the first time. Collie, who played for Indianapolis from 2009-12, is on his third stint this season with the Patriots, having now appeared in eight games.
With a fourth-quarter head injury to Thompkins, Collie saw the field, and had a big third-down catch that extended a Patriots touchdown drive. On third and 10 from the Colts 18, Collie caught a 15-yard pass from Tom Brady that set the Patriots up inside the 5.
Two plays later, Stevan Ridley plowed in from the 1, and the Patriots pushed their lead to 21 points.
It ended up being Collie’s only catch of the game. Branch was inactive.
A Barkley sighting
Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley was at the game, and visited the Patriots locker room after the win . . . After the Patriots scored a third-quarter touchdown to up their lead to 29-15, the pro-Patriots video starring Hulk Hogan was shown on the scoreboards, bringing a loud cheer. Hogan made the video after the wife of Patriots tight end Matthew Mulligan purchased a Hogan replica championship wrestling belt. Mulligan is now displaying the belt in his locker . . . Saturday marked the fourth time the Patriots and Colts had met in the playoffs. The first three games were won by the home team: The Patriots advanced at the end of the 2003 season (24-14) and 2004 season (20-3), then lost at Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game after the 2006 season (38-34) . . . The Patriots held a moment of silence before the game in honor of Sam Berns, the 17-year-old Foxborough resident who died on Friday. According to team owner Robert Kraft, Berns was to be an honorary captain for the game.