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Special-teams kick-start.

Byline: Rich Garven

It's been a season filled with special plays for the Patriots' special teams units. It was more of the same Sunday in the Patriots' 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots went three and out on their opening drive, wasting a 20-yard punt return by Julian Edelman that spotted the ball at the New England 44. Punter Ryan Allen then lofted a short kick to the Indianapolis 22 that veteran returner Josh Cribbs ran into and muffed.

The ball rebounded off Cribbs and directly into the hands of Darius Fleming at the Indy 26. That was the first of three turnovers by the Colts.

"The ball came out and I was fortunate to get the ball,'' said Fleming, who was signed off the practice squad in late November. "I didn't expect it to come right like that, but when it came I did my best to get it and, like I said, I was fortunate enough to get it.''

The Patriots scored six plays later to take a 7-0 lead in a game in which they never trailed and led for nearly 56 minutes.

"Special teams is a big part of the game and you have to try to make a play whenever you get a chance because you don't get that many opportunities,'' Fleming said. "So one big play on special teams can make a big difference in the game.''

Inside the Hoodie

The Patriots' latest victory was one of historical significance for coach Bill Belichick.

It was the 30th career playoff game Belichick coached in. He joined Hall of Famers Tom Landry and Don Shula (36 each) as the only coaches in NFL history to achieve that milestone.

More importantly, the win was the 21st for Belichick and broke a tie with Landry for the most all-time.

Belichick has always credited the players for his success. But quarterback Tom Brady believes he and his teammates wouldn't have accomplished what they have without their hooded boss.

"I think he's so consistent and I think we as players know what we can count on with him and he always talks about consistent, dependable players and we have the most consistent, dependable coach,'' Brady said of the only NFL head coach he's known. "Every day we show up to work knowing what to expect and he expects a high level of concentration from us.

"He wants us to go out there and perform at our best every day and when we don't he lets us know. He motivates us in different ways and he's always trying to get the best out of us. He holds everybody accountable, certainly holds himself accountable and I'm very fortunate to play for him.''

Belichick is now 21-9 (.700) in the playoffs. His winning percentage ranks fifth all-time (minimum 10 games) behind Vince Lombardi (.900, 9-1), Tom Flores (.727, 8-3), Bill Walsh (.714, 10-4), and Joe Gibbs (.708, 17-7).

It was Belichick's sixth victory in a conference championship, tying him with Shula for the most. Belichick has coached in nine conference championships, second only to Landry's 10.

Across the Line

The Seattle Seahawks should make for some interesting reads leading up to the Super Bowl as they don't lack for arrogance or ability with a cast that includes running back Marshawn Lynch, who prefers not to speak, and cornerback Richard Sherman, who doesn't stop talking.

And it'll be a reunion of sorts for cornerback Brandon Browner, who played for the Seahawks from 2011 to '13 before signing with the Patriots in March.

"Those are like my brothers over there, they're like my best friends,'' Browner said. "But I'm trying to win. I'm head hunting.''

Browner finished with one tackle and one penalty, for illegal holding. That makes for a league-leading 17 penalties in 11 games. It's also worth noting the Patriots are 10-1 when Browner plays and 4-3 when he's sat.

Facts & Figures

The Patriots advanced to their eighth Super Bowl, which ties them with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers for the most appearances in NFL history.

The Patriots improved to 27-18 (.600) in the playoffs, including 17-4 (.810) at home, 8-3 (.727) in the AFC Championship, and 4-1 (.800) against the Colts. The Colts are 22-23 (.489) in the playoffs.

The 27 playoffs wins by New England rank fifth all-time behind the Cowboys (34), Steelers (33), Green Bay Packers (31), and San Francisco 49ers (30). Their winning percentage (.600) is tied with the Steelers (.600, 33-22) and 49ers (.600, 30-20) for third behind the Baltimore Ravens (.652, 15-8) and Packers (.608 31-20).

The Patriots are tied with the Packers for third all-time in home playoff wins (17) behind the Cowboys (20) and Oakland Raiders (19) and are second in winning percentage (.810) behind the Seattle Seahawks (.846, 11-2).

The Patriots recorded their 50th overall win in the series, which dates to 1970 and they lead, 50-29 (.633).

Box score
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Garven, Rich
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 19, 2015
Previous Article:Seahawks rally, stun Packers; Wilson throws 35-yard TD pass to Kearse in overtime.
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