Luck, Colts face challenge of knocking off Patriots’ Brady

On Jan. 4, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a 64 yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Brian Spurlock | USA Today Sports
On Jan. 4, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a 64 yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Posted Jan. 11, 2014, at 6:19 a.m.

Andrew Luck’s first visit to New England resulted in the worst defeat of his two-year career — a 59-24 beating at the hands of the Patriots in his rookie season.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback appeared on the way to absorbing a defeat of similar magnitude a week ago, but he rallied the Colts from a 28-point second-half deficit to a stunning 45-44 victory over Kansas City in the opening round of the playoffs.

The improbable win earned Luck a second crack at Tom Brady and host New England on Saturday night.

Luck has amassed 11 wins in the fourth quarter and overtime in his first two seasons — the most in the NFL during that span — but now the Colts have to find a way to take down the winningest quarterback in postseason history.

Brady is 17-7 in the playoffs, which includes five trips to the Super Bowl and three championships, and guided New England to an 8-0 home record this season. Brady is working with a patchwork receiving corps that is missing tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught two touchdown passes against the Colts last season.

TV: 8:15 p.m., CBS.

ABOUT THE COLTS (12-5): While Luck stole the headlines by leading five second-half touchdown drives and throwing for four TDs and a career-best 443 yards, second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton also had a coming-out party by hauling in 13 catches for 224 yards and a pair of scores in the second-biggest playoff comeback in league history. The onus will again be on the Luck-to-Hilton combination due to the absence of a consistent running game by Indianapolis, which has relied more on Donald Brown that early-season acquisition Trent Richardson, who fumbled on his lone carry last week. Another concern for the Colts is a defense that allowed a total of 20 points in winning the last three regular-season games but was shredded by a Kansas City offense that was without its top weapon in Jamaal Charles for the majority of the contest.

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (12-4): Multiple injuries to Gronkowski and the departure of Wes Welker to free agency has left New England scrambling to cobble together an effective passing attack and it’s reflected in the numbers — Brady’s 25 touchdown passes and 87.3 passer rating are his lowest since the 2006 season. Converted college quarterback Julian Edelman helped fill the void with 105 receptions — nearly tripling his previous career high — and 1,056 yards, but the Patriots have shown an increasing reliance on sledgehammer running back LeGarrette Blount, who rambled for 265 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games. The defense, which lost Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries, suffered another blow when third-leading tackler Brandon Spikes was placed on injured reserve.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Patriots offensive line vs. Colts OLB Robert Mathis — Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles and moves from right to left. He’ll likely see backup RT Marcus Cannon and long-armed LT Nate Solder. Brady said this week he is well aware Mathis can ruin a game for an offense, an indication a detailed plan is in place to ensure through double-team blocking that Mathis doesn’t blow up the New England offense. His strip of QB Alex Smith last week altered the entire game.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Colts WR LaVon Brazill: There was a glimmer of hope in last week’s AFC wild-card playoff game win over Kansas City that Brazill could be a useful secondary option with Reggie Wayne (knee) unavailable and Darrius Heyward-Bey undependable behind Hilton. Brazill caught four passes for 54 yards, with two of those receptions picking up first downs during the team’s comeback.

GAME NOTES: Brady, who is 11-3 at home in the postseason, needs three TD passes to surpass Brett Favre (44) for the second-highest total in playoff history. … Colts OLB Robert Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks during the regular season and had a pivotal strip-sack in last week’s victory. … The Patriots joined San Francisco as the only teams to win at least 10 games in 11 consecutive seasons. … The Colts lead the NFL with 11 postseason appearances since 2002. … Brady made his first NFL start in 2001 against the Colts. … Brady is 6-1 in the playoffs coming off of a first-round bye. .. Heyward-Bey has been officially ruled out for Saturday’s game. He sat out all three days of practice this week with the injury, which he suffered in last weekend’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Heyward-Bey caught 29 passes for 309 yards and one touchdown in 2013, his first season with Indianapolis. He did not have any receptions in the playoff victory over Kansas City.

 

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