FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots had an effective game plan Saturday night: Go ahead by so many points that even Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck can’t mount a comeback.
It worked. After the teams went back and forth while the Patriots held just a seven-point lead, New England broke out at Gillette Stadium. Running back LeGarrette Blount ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run, and rookie linebacker Jamie Collins picked off Luck, leading to a 1-yard Stevan Ridley score.
Luck, who came back from a large deficit against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, couldn’t erase a 43-22 deficit against the Patriots this weekend in the AFC divisional-playoff round.
Blount and Collins are among this week’s three stars of the game. Check out what made their performances so notable as the Patriots prepare for next week’s AFC Championship Game, either against the San Diego Chargers at Gillette or in Denver against the Broncos.
Dont’a Hightower: The second-year linebacker was constantly around the ball in the run game and showed off some nice coverage ability in the passing game. Hightower came away with an interception in the second quarter on a pass intended for fullback Stanley Havili.
Hightower admitted he had a rough stretch after Jerod Mayo went down with a season-ending injury, but the same has not occurred with Brandon Spikes out. Hightower might have had his best game of the season.
Jamie Collins: The rookie linebacker had the best game of his young career, with a sack and an interception. He did a great job of defending Colts tight end Coby Fleener all game.
It appears, as of now, that next year’s starting linebacker corps will be Mayo, Hightower and Collins. I can’t imagine Spikes coming back at this point.
LeGarrette Blount: He didn’t quite match his Week 17 production, but he still had an incredible game. The soon-to-be free agent set a new Patriots record for touchdowns in a game with four. He ripped off another long touchdown run, this one a 73-yarder. In all, he had 24 carries for 166 yards and four scores.
Blount is a free agent after the season, so he’ll probably want a lot of money after such an incredible end to the season, but Bill Belichick typically doesn’t like to pay running backs a ton. It’s amazing how much Blount has improved in short yardage this season. He’s always been a good home-run back.
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard gets an honorable mention for intercepting Luck twice. Wide receivers Danny Amendola (three catches for 77 yards) and Julian Edelman (six catches for 84 yards) also had strong performances.