FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots are back in the AFC championship game because of a dominant running attack and an opportunistic defense.
Oh yeah, and Tom Brady too.
You know, the guy who filled in as the holder on extra points when the starter got hurt.
In a game in which he became the first player to reach 6,000 yards passing in the postseason, Brady's main offensive roles were to adjust play calls at the line of scrimmage and hand the ball off.
New England rushed for 234 yards and beat the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 Saturday night to advance to next Sunday's game in Denver. The top-seeded Broncos moved on with a 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
The second-seeded Patriots (13-4) got a 73-yard touchdown run from LeGarrette Blount and had four interceptions against Andrew Luck.
"The way our defense is getting the ball for us and, really, what we've done the last three or four weeks (with) the running game has just been awesome," Brady said. "Hopefully, we can do it next week, too."
And if he has to hold again for Stephen Gostkowski? Well, at least he has some experience.
Punter and holder Ryan Allen hurt his shoulder when he raced back after the ball was snapped over his head late in the second quarter. It resulted in a safety and the loss of Allen for the game.
When Stevan Ridley scored on a 3-yard run with 6:18 left in the third quarter, the Patriots went for a 2-point conversion. Ridley ran the ball in for a 29-15 lead.
"The holder was no factor at all. We were perfectly comfortable with Tom doing the holding," coach Bill Belichick said Sunday. "It was more just the strategic plan of either being up by 13 or being up by 14."
Brady did get two chances to hold on extra points after fourth-quarter touchdowns and, as usual, came through.
He said that the last time he held on extra points was in the 2000 Orange Bowl for Michigan. Michigan won 35-34 when Alabama's try for an extra point in overtime failed. Brady also threw four touchdown passes in that game.
"Maybe I'll try renegotiating my contract or something for doing more work," he joked after Saturday night's win. "I don't even do it in practice. They said, 'Get in there and do it,' and I said, 'What do I say?' But we figured it out."
Gostkowski said Brady does practice holding, just not every week.
"He's not as fine-tuned as Ryan is, but he did a good job," the kicker said.
Brady even pulled off a surprise punt on third down in New England's previous game, a 34-20 win over Buffalo in the regular-season finale.