Scheduled to receive more medical attention Sunday, Ryan Allen’s availability for the AFC Championship game in Denver is unclear, perhaps leaving the Patriots in a punting bind days before the most important game of the season.
Allen was injured in the third quarter of Saturday night’s 43-22 win over Indianapolis, when a snap by Danny Aiken sailed over his head and toward the end zone. Allen raced back, picked up the ball, and was promptly flattened by a group of hard-charging Colts. The play resulted in a safety, and after Allen punted the ball back to the Colts minutes later, it was clear he was in pain. He left the game and did not return, and was not spotted in the postgame locker room, which is typically the case for injured players.
During the game, the Patriots announced that Allen had suffered a shoulder injury. The left-footed punter wasn’t moving his right arm as he ran off the field following his final kick.
Coach Bill Belichick didn’t have any details after the victory — “He wasn’t able to come back, so we’ll take a look at it tomorrow and we’ll see where he’s at” — and wasn’t asked for an update on Allen during his Sunday morning teleconference.
There is no additional punter on the Patriots’ roster. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties after Allen left the game, and averaged a respectable 41.8 yards on his five kicks.
If Allen is injured seriously enough that he won’t be able to play against the Broncos, the Patriots would have a decision to make: Allow Gostkowski to continue handling all kicking and punting duties or sign a free agent. Anybody who was on an NFL roster at the end of a team’s season would not be available, so bringing back popular former Patriot Zoltan Mesko is not an option; he was signed by the Bengals before their wild-card playoff game, in which he played.
Allen’s absence also was felt on kicks, since he serves as Gostkowski’s holder. The Patriots chose to go for a 2-point conversion on the first touchdown after Allen left, and quarterback Tom Brady held for Gostkowski on the final two extra points.
When was the last time Brady had held in a game?
“I think it was when I played [for Michigan] in the Orange Bowl 14 or 15 years ago. I don’t even do it in practice,” Brady said. “They said, ‘Get in there and do it,’ and I said, ‘What do I say?’ But we figured it out.”
Once the Patriots know the severity of Allen’s injury, they’ll need to do the same.
Weather was OK
Temperature at kickoff Saturday night was 57 degrees, which made it the warmest home playoff game in Patriots history. The old mark was 51, set last year against the Texans. And while rain fell steadily for much of the game, the conditions were not as dire as some had feared. Nor did they make much of an impact, as some also had feared.
“I thought it was really a minimal factor,” Belichick said. “We as a staff had talked about the different possibilities: Rain like we had last weekend in the Buffalo game, wind maybe more like we had in the Denver game, although in this game it was coming from the other direction, or the combination of both. In the end, we really got neither.
“The wind, I thought, was a minimal factor. Even though there was some light rain, it wasn’t the soaking, I guess would be the word I’d use, that we had in the Buffalo game. The field and the players, it wasn’t just soaked out there.
“We’ve certainly played and practiced in a lot worse. Overall, I thought it was a pretty clean game relative to the conditions, especially considering the various forecasts we heard during the week. But, I thought our players handled it well.”
A real plus
By intercepting Andrew Luck four times, the Patriots extended a statistical playoff streak to four games: When they have a plus turnover margin, they’ve won, and when they have more giveaways than takeaways, they’ve lost. The last time that wasn’t the case was the AFC Championship game against Baltimore on Jan. 22, 2012. The Patriots were minus-2 that day, yet still advanced to the Super Bowl.
Most impressively, they were able to generate a plus-4 turnover margin Saturday night against a team that had committed the fewest in the league during the regular season. The Colts had just 14 turnovers over the first 16 games, but Saturday was the second straight playoff game in which they lost four. It happened the week before, too, but the Colts were able to overcome that sloppiness to beat Kansas City. No such luck this time.
“I mean, right place, right time – execution,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. “We executed our game plan and we did a great job of being where we needed to be to make those plays.
“Again, I say it every week: it started Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, just that whole week of preparation. Knowing who their go-to guys were, what their route combinations are, what they like to do. That sets you up to succeed right there.”
LeGarrette Blount may have supplanted Stevan Ridley as the featured tailback, but Ridley is taking it well. In fact, he’s been motivated watching the big back. “He’s been giving me a tough run, man. It’s tough to catch this guy right now, but I mean, when you’re breaking 50-, 60-, 70-yard runs, it’s going to be like that, so maybe I’ve got to up my speed in the offseason so I can catch the big boy,” said Ridley, who had 52 yards against the Colts on 14 carries, two of which he took in for touchdowns . . . Sunday’s upcoming AFC Championship game in Denver will be the first time the Patriots have played a road playoff game (not counting neutral sites) since Jan. 21, 2007, when they traveled to Indianapolis and lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC Championship, 38-34. The Patriots had played nine straight home playoff games since then, the second-longest streak in NFL history. Miami holds the record, with 10 straight home playoff games . . . If they can beat the Broncos, the Patriots will break a tie for fifth with Oakland and secure their 26th playoff victory . . . The Patriots’ 10-minute advantage in time of possession (it was exactly 35:00 for New England to 25:00 for Indianapolis) was their largest since they held the ball for 37:43 in the season-opening win at Buffalo . . . Brady, already the NFL’s career leader in playoff passing yardage, went over the 6,000-yard mark. After throwing for 198 yards against the Colts, Brady now has thrown for 6,147 yards in 25 playoff games, which is also the most. He is the NFL’s career leader with 566 playoff completions, and with 42 playoff touchdowns (he had none Saturday night, because the Patriots’ six were all on the ground), Brady is third, behind Joe Montana (45) and Brett Favre (44) . . . Bill Belichick (19-8) is now tied with Don Shula for second on the all-time playoff wins list for a coach. Tom Landry had 20.