In the next week leading up to the AFC Championship game – aka The Brady-Manning Bowl – you’ll hear a lot of numbers. But, in lieu of all that hype, we have one particular number – a fraction, actually – you should think about this week: two-thirds.
Tom Brady has started at quarterback for 12 out of his 14 years in New England (rookie in 2000, injured in 2008). In those 12 years, the Patriots have made the AFC Championship game eight times. Eight out of 12. Two out of three. Two-thirds.
Since the 2000-2001 season, the Ravens have four AFC title appearances. The Steelers have four. The Colts have three.
With eight showings, this vying-for-the-AFC-Championship thing has become normal in New England. Brady and Coach Bill Belichick in the postseason, again. The AFC East crown, again. This past week we even heard talk of something Foxboro-related called “playoff fatigue.” (Reading the piece, it seemed more like “playoff ticket price fatigue” but that’s another story.)
For those who have forgotten, or who lack the years on Earth to remember the Patsies, here’s another number: 91. That’s the point differential of the 132-41 combined score of big Pats games in the 20th Century. The Boston Patriots lost the 1963 AFL Championship to the San Diego Chargers, 51-10. They made an improbable run to Super Bowl 20, beating the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins, only to get crushed by the Bears, 46-10. They made a nice playoff run after the 1996 season, but then their coach leaked to the media THE WEEK BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL that he would leave for a division rival. They lost to Brett Favre (but mostly Desmond Howard) and the Packers, 35-21.
Other numbers? How about 1-15, aka the 1990 Rod Rust Record? Or 2-14 (we’ve got a couple of those: 1981, 1992). How about 1999 (Pete Carroll’s final, not-so-pumped season), starting out the year at 6-2, only to finish 8-8? When it comes to the pre-Belichick Pats, those types of numbers pop up a lot.
But now? Double-digit wins, again. During a season with 11 players on injured reserve, including six starters.
Two-thirds. Something to think about among all the other stats you’ll be reading this week.
Some other stuff we’re thinking of heading into the AFC Championship…
On The Right Track: No one seemed all that surprised when Belichick traded Jeff Demps for LeGarrette Blount after Demps stated his intention to continue with his track career. Having to toss in a seventh-round pick seemed a bit high for the troubled Blount. (For a rundown of what we at BSMW and a few other Boston media types thought at the time, check out our post-draft piece. Please be gentle.) Well, it took a while, but Blount has become the guy the Pats dared to hoped for. It wasn’t just 24 carries for 166 yards (6.9-yard avg) and four touchdowns. It was the sense that – like what happened in the fourth quarter on his 73-yard gallop – if the Pats kept running, good things were going to happen.
He’ll Take A Pass: Speaking of running, for Brady to throw zero touchdown passes in a 43-22 playoff win points to a new (or revisited) type of offense. The QB finishing barely over .500 (13 for 25) for 198 yards looks almost bleak, but consider that nine of his 13 completions went for first downs, and that he led the Pats to a 61 percent efficiency rate on third down. That helped garner a 35:00 to 25:00 time of possession advantage.
Speaking of possession, pot’s legal in Colorado now. Road trip to Denver!
(I’m just kidding. I’m in my 40s, and people in their 40s who smoke a lot of pot resemble characters in Raymond Carver short stories, and let me tell you, you do not want to be a character in a Raymond Carver short story.)
Whatever Spikes Your Interest: New England went into the Colts game missing yet another starting defender, linebacker Brandon Spikes, lost with a knee injury for the year. Enter rookie Jamie Collins. The Southern Miss alum has always shown athleticism, but it seems that he has recently gotten more comfortable in the Pats’ system. Saturday, Collins romped all over the field, racking up six tackles, a sack and an interception. At some point, New England might miss Spikes’ intensity and jackhammer style in the middle; Saturday, though, Collins seemed to fit right in.
Put On Your Tights: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had one catch for six yards. Tight end Matthew Mulligan had zero catches. Fullback James Develin had one carry for zero yards. Yet these three had as much to do with New England’s offensive production as anyone, pushing away Colts like ornery ranchers. Take a close look at any of the Patriots’ six rushing TDs Saturday and you’ll see that trio combining to get Blount and Stevan Ridley into the end zone. Their blocking – both on running and pass protection – will make the difference next week.
Really, There’s No Rush: While the home team focused on the ground game, Indy failed to do much running the ball, as Donald Brown had 17 carries for 63 yards and Trent Richardson had three rushes for one yard. Yes, this was partly a result of ball possession by New England and Indy’s pass-heavy game plan, but the young, no-name defensive line of Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano deserve praise for occupying blockers and stuffing up the middle for most of the night.
Ladies And Gentlemen, The Picks’ Ease: While Andrew Luck deserves credit for hitting on some perfect throws, the Patriots D should get some praise for picking off the Big Country QB four times: Alfonso Dennard twice, linebackers Collins and Dont’a Hightower once apiece. Considering the explosiveness of the Colts’ offense, New England did a solid job holding them to three TDs.
Allen Wrenched: Looks like punter Ryan Allen got tossed around chasing after a bad snap on Saturday, getting piled on and messing up his shoulder in the process. Big praise to kicker Stephen Gostkowski for his first punts in competition ever (never would have predicted that, especially given his five punts for a 37-yard average with two inside the 20). Patriots special teams failed to live up to their name, surrendering a safety on the aforementioned snap and getting three block-in-the-back penalties on punt returns. Might prove something to look at for next week, especially with Brady’s short-lived stint as a holder on extra points.
Whatever happens, your 13-4 Patriots take another run at another Super Bowl appearance. And that ain’t bad.
Chris Warner can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cwarn89