The Patriots have won five straight games against the Indianapolis Colts, including the last three when facing quarterback Andrew Luck. Those games haven’t been close, with Luck’s Colts losing, 42-20 this season, 43-22 in last season’s playoffs, and 59-24 the season before.
That’s three straight Patriots wins, by an average score of 48-22. That kind of stress-free dominance might lead some to wonder whether the Patriots will be battling overconfidence as they get ready to host the Colts Sunday in the AFC Championship game, with a spot in Super Bowl XLIX at stake.
They will not, coach Bill Belichick said.
“I don’t think any games in the past really have much application to this one,” Belichick said Tuesday morning on his teleconference. “It’s all about the preparation and performance of the team this week, so that’s really all we’re focused on, how we can play our best football game of the year on Sunday night.
“Some other year, some other game, I don’t really care about. I don’t think it really matters.”
Luck has put up decent passing numbers against the Patriots, throwing for 334 yards two seasons ago, 331 in the playoffs last year, and 303 in this season’s game Nov. 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium. He also had two touchdown passes in each of the three games.
But Luck also has thrown a total of eight interceptions, has needed 43 passing attempts per game to get those yards, and his completion percentage against the Patriots is only 53.8.
Nobody has thrown for more yards over his first five playoff games than Luck, who has piled up 1,703 yards in the postseason, with a 3-2 record.
But he’s also capable of making plays when he decides not to throw the ball.
“He’s just like a sixth receiver,” said Belichick. “You have to cover him, he can run. When he extends the play, then he has the ability to create big plays. We’ve seen him do that multiple times throughout his career already.
“It’s another guy you’ve got to defend in the running game, in the passing game in terms of his ability to scramble and make first-down yardage on possession-type downs. All those things are a problem: having to cover their receivers longer, and having to deal with his ability to run for yardage.”
Belichick was asked if Luck, who is 6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds, bears any physical resemblance to Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (6-5, 241), who is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to bring down because of his size.
“He’s a big, strong guy that runs out of a lot of arm tackles,” said Belichick. “I think he’s a lot faster than Roethlisberger, much more of a threat to gain more yardage. Roethlisberger’s really hard to tackle, so is Luck. They’re both a problem.”
1 plus 1
Both home teams on Championship Sunday are favored by at least a touchdown, and losing in their own stadium has been exceptionally rare this season for the Patriots and Seahawks. The Patriots went 7-1 at Gillette Stadium (losing the regular-season finale to the Bills while sitting multiple starters), then beat the Ravens Saturday in the divisional round.
Likewise, the Seahawks lost just once at CenturyLink Field in the regular season (to Dallas), and won Sunday’s divisional game at home over the Carolina Panthers.
Despite that home cooking, history says it’s tough for the No. 1 seeds from both the AFC and NFC to meet in the Super Bowl.
Over the past 20 seasons (starting with the 1994 NFL year), both No. 1 playoff seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl only twice. After not having both top seeds in the title game from 1994-2008, the drought finally ended in the 2009 season, when the Saints and Colts got through. The same thing happened last season, when the Broncos and Seahawks used their home-field advantage, won twice, and reached the Super Bowl.
The last time both No. 1 seeds made it to the Super Bowl in consecutive seasons? Try 30 years ago, in 1983 (Redskins-Raiders) and 1984 (49ers-Dolphins). The Patriots and Seahawks are hoping to join that club.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh held his season-ending news conference Tuesday, and again addressed the Patriots’ curious formation late in the third quarter of Saturday’s game.
After the game, Harbaugh said he thought there was some deception involved in New England’s formations. He changed directions Tuesday, saying his biggest problem was “the mechanics of the officiating.”
“My thoughts are the same as they were during the game and after the game. It was about the mechanics of the officiating. I never had an issue with the formation, never even brought that up.
“It wasn’t about the formation at all. I had a chance to talk to [referee] Bill Vinovich during the game, and he addressed it. He said that was right.
“There’s a certain timing that goes with that, in terms of the referee getting back in position to referee the game. The ball was being snapped so quickly that he didn’t have a chance to do that.
“Plus, the other interesting thing is the signal for an eligible receiver and an ineligible receiver is the same, so it’s a little difficult to determine what the official is actually signaling in the heat of battle when it’s done that quickly.
“Bill was great about it, he said he would slow it down. I think he went over and told their sideline at the same time, and we didn’t see it after that.
“I thought it was well-handled, and talking to the league afterward, since then [NFL vice president of officiating] Dean [Blandino] has told me it’s being looked at, and the mechanics are being looked at and some changes will have to be made. In no way did I think it determined the outcome of the game. I was asked about it, and I answered it.”
The Stork question
The Patriots will hit the practice field for the first time this week on Wednesday. Whether center Bryan Stork will be out there remains to be seen. Stork, a rookie from Florida State who has started each of the past 10 games, left Saturday’s game with a knee injury and did not return. Asked how the potential absence of Stork would affect the game plan, Belichick said, “Bryan has done a good job for us. We finished the game without him last week. If he wasn’t available, then we would be in a similar situation this week. Whether it be the same or different, I don’t really want to get into that.” . . . When he made the first of five extra points on Saturday, kicker Stephen Gostkowski became the seventh player in NFL history with at least 100 points in the postseason. His next playoff field goal will be his 20th; only 10 kickers have made 20 field goals in the postseason.