It will be the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
However, the teams earned their way to Arizona in wildly different ways Sunday. While the Seahawks produced a final-reel instant classic against Green Bay, the Patriots advanced with a workmanlike pounding of the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s all about the players,” coach Bill Belichick said. “They did a tremendous job in all three phases. We made plays in the kicking game … we scored a lot of points offensively; had some turnovers on defense. The players played great, like they have all year.”
The game was billed as a potential changing of the guard between the veteran quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots and third-year quarterback Andrew Luck of the Colts. However, the old guard remained emphatically in place as Brady passed for 226 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, while Luck managed 126 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Long day,” Luck said. “They obviously outplayed us and deserve to go on.”
The Patriots will face the Seahawks on Feb. 1 at Glendale, Arizona.
The Roman numerals are different this time, but trips to the Super Bowl are as common to the Patriots as any team in the NFL. This will be their eighth Super Bowl appearance, matching Pittsburgh and Dallas for the most by any team.
This also will be a sixth Super Bowl for Brady and Belichick.
Belichick’s six conference titles match Tom Landry for the most by any coach, and his 21st playoff victory passes Landry for the most.
Brady’s six conference titles and 20 playoff wins are the most by any starting quarterback. On the exceedingly safe assumption that he starts Super Bowl XLIX, he will set a record for the most Super Bowl starts by any player.
That’s a long way from Week 4, when New England was 2-2 and there were whispers that maybe the game was passing him by.
“There’s a lot of motivation for a lot of different reasons, and I’ve had a lot of belief in my teammates over the course of the entire year,” Brady said. “You don’t want to judge your team after three or four games into the season, and it’s important not to ride the roller coaster.”
Brady got plenty of help Sunday from LeGarrette Blount, who led all rushers with 148 yards and three touchdowns. His 30 carries were a Patriots postseason record.
The Colts couldn’t come close to matching that as a team, as they managed only 83 yards on the ground. Their inability to pose a significant running threat increased the burden on Luck, as did the pelting rain that fell throughout the evening.
“We need to be successful and run the ball,” said Colts reserve quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a former Seahawk. “We say that every week, and we have done a good job of that. … The conditions were bad, and it was really rainy and wet.”
The Colts’ first possession was a three-and-out: a 2-yard run and a pair of incomplete passes. The Patriots’ first possession was a six-play drive capped by Blount’s first touchdown.
The lead grew to 14-0 before the Colts’ brought the margin back to seven late in the second quarter with a 1-yard run by Zurlon Tipton.
However, the Patriots added a field goal to take a 17-7 lead into halftime, then steamrolled the Colts, 28-0, in the second half.
Along the way, the Patriots continued to try to befuddle the Colts with a flurry of players with high numbers reporting eligible and players with low numbers reporting ineligible. In the third quarter, 320-pound tackle Nate Solder caught a 16-yard touchdown pass.
“There’s no way to know that that was coming,” Solder said. “When the time came, I did my best, as anyone would.”
Once in the locker room, the Patriots celebrated in their new AFC Champions T-shirts. They also slowly began turning their attention to the one game that remains.
“(The Seahawks) are a really good team,” receiver Julian Edelman said. “They don’t turn the ball over. They get turnovers. They got a defense that’s ferocious. They’ve got a D-line that’s awesome. And they’ve got a secondary that’s really good. So we’re going to have to prepare hard for these guys. This is the best football team we’ve played yet.”