FOXBOROUGH — Quick-hit thoughts from the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship game:
■ The Patriots weren’t always perfect, but they simply overwhelmed an overmatched Colts team in the second half that had no business being on the same field. This is the most balanced Patriots team we’ve seen since 2004 — yes, more balanced than the 2007 team. Allowing only 7 points to Andrew Luck and the Colts was an absolutely dominant performance. This game shows you how bad the Broncos were at the end of the season.
■ Game ball goes to the five offensive linemen, who just dominated the line of scrimmage. Everyone in the building knew the Patriots were going to run the football, and they did it anyway. Bonus points for doing it without starting center Bryan Stork. Most impressively, the Patriots played keep away from the Colts, holding the ball for 25 of 33 minutes between the second and fourth quarter. And Nate Solder catching his first NFL touchdown was the cherry on top. The offensive line has been inconsistent this year, but came up big in the two playoff games.
■ If only LeGarrette Blount could face the Colts every game. Last week against Baltimore, he had three carries for 1 yard. Sunday night? A franchise record 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns. He now has 314 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games against the Colts.
■ Luck has thrown 10 interceptions in four games against the Patriots. Yes, safe to say they own him.
■ Gotta love the Patriots using the trick substitution plays again — Cameron Fleming being used 20 times as a sixth offensive lineman, and Michael Hoomanawanui lining up as an ineligible player on a couple of downs. The Seahawks are going to have a lot to think about over the next two weeks.
■ Not Tom Brady’s best game, with a bad interception down the middle to Rob Gronkowski late in the second quarter for the second game in a row. He stared down Gronk the whole way and threw an easy interception for D’Qwell Jackson. This game could’ve been over at halftime, but the interception and subsequent 93-yard drive gave the Colts life. But Brady was still efficient, completion 23-of-35 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. And he once again showed surprisingly good mobility with his 9-yard run inside the red zone in the first half. Brady’s play isn’t always sexy, but he has an uncanny knack of making the right read and the right throw.
■ Smart of the Patriots to take Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, and Julian Edelman out of the game with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter. No need to risk any injury. And really liked the way Belichick let Brady jog off the field by himself with three minutes left. He deserved the special attention after all of the adversity he faced early in the season.
■ Daniel “Boom” Herron had two really bad drops early in the game — a checkdown with lots of space, and a wheel route against Jamie Collins deep. An early Colts score could have changed the complexion of the game. Some bad drops by Gronk, Edelman, and Danny Amendola, as well, which will get lost in the euphoria of victory.
■ The Patriots used the same exact game plan this time as they did in November: Run the ball, and match up Kyle Arrington on T.Y. Hilton, Darrelle Revis on Reggie Wayne and Donte Moncrief, and Brandon Browner on Coby Fleener. The game plan worked to perfection for a second time. The Patriots’ 45 points were actually less than the 48 they had averaged the previous three games against the Colts. Bill Belichick absolutely owns Luck and Chuck Pagano.
■ Adam Vinatieri missing badly (on a 51-yard attempt) at Gillette while the crowd boos — nothing feels right about that.