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Colts defense couldn’t keep up with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH — The only question remaining, even with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, was what would be the size of the winning margin. The Patriots already were in front, 45-7, and over on the sideline Tom Brady and Julian Edelman shared a handshake, smiles, and confident nods.

They were going back to the Super Bowl, gifted a playoff EZ Pass by the eager-yet-not-ready-for-prime-time Indianapolis Colts.

“You don’t expect this kind of result,’’ said wide receiver Matthew Slater, following yet another patented thrashing of the Colts. “It kind of catches you off guard . . . but we’ll take it, don’t get me wrong.’’

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Past performance indeed may not predict future results, but such was not the case Sunday night at the soggy Gillette, on a night fitting for Duck Boats as standard means of Route 1 transit. The Colts, who could have used lifeboats, were unable to muster much offense, but their greatest fault, again, was their inability to stop the run. In the week leading up to the AFC title game, they had talked proudly about improvement in their overall tackling game, only to show up unable to get a grip.

Exhibit A: a total of 40 Patriot rushes that produced 177 yards and three touchdowns, most of that haul logged by powerhouse returnee LeGarrette Blount. Already the owner of a four-TD-run effort against the Colts, he added three more, rushing a club-record 30 times for 148 yards (4.9 average).

The Colts earlier in the playoffs had dismissed Cincinnati and Denver, but they had no answer for the town of Blount.

“I just wanted to come and run as hard as I can,’’ said Blount. “My offensive line is amazing. To be honest, I probably should have had more out there — I think I missed a couple of holes. We came in and planned to run the football, and whatever was working, we were going to do it.’’

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Truth was, there was precious little that didn’t work, including yet another sleight-of-hand move on the offensive line in which the Pats made behemoth tackle Nate Solder an eligible receiver for a play and then promptly turned Solder into the owner of his first and only TD pass from Brady.

Solder, left wide open on the left side, collected Brady’s soft-serve toss (hold the sprinkles) into his mammoth hands, and hauled toward the goal line like a barreling 18-wheeler. After crashing over for what would be a 24-7 lead early in the third, he was met in the end zone by rejoicing fellow linemen Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer.

“Amazing to be part of a game like that,’’ said the smiling Solder, “and a cool play like that . . . just amazing. I practiced that for years and . . . there it is. It was just the right moment. The stars were aligned. Amazing.’’

“Nate’s a good athlete,’’ added defensive back Devin McCourty. “There are a lot of times he’ll walk through here and you cannot tell the difference between him and Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] walking through the locker room. The thing I loved was Nate got up like he knew he was going to score, like he’d been there before.”

Note to Seattle: Be ready for Gronk Major and Gronk Minor.

Be ready for anything, said Solder, when asked what he was told during the week while preparing for the Colts.

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“Catch the ball,’’ he said, when asked what he was thinking when the play was called. “Catch the ball. Hold it. Don’t fumble it.’’

Unlikely the Patriots will abandon their clever use of eligible and ineligilble receivers. The trickery helped them dismiss Baltimore last weekend and it equally flustered the Colts, who time and again heard No. 71, offensive lineman Cameron Fleming, was reporting in as the dodge artist du jour.

As the night played out, the Colts’ futility mounted, to the point one half expected to hear over the PA, “The Colts, Nos. 1 through 99, report ineligible.’’

“We had all three phases of the game going,’’ said Slater. “We got off to a good start. There was that big turnover there by the special teams, and that gave us a boost.’’

The early turnover came via the Pats’ first punt, after a drive stalled out at midfield. The Colts’ Josh Cribbs muffed the punt, the Pats taking over at the Indianapolis 26, and only six plays later Blount crashed over from the 1-yard line for the first of his TDs.

“We didn’t expect it to go the way it did,’’ said Slater, even though past history once again proved precursor. “We were fortunate to get up early, put our foot on the gas, and play the game we were all looking for.’’


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com