FOXBORO - To call a quarterback a "game manager" is faint praise, suggesting a sound mind but exasperating limitations as a passer.
Certainly not a future Hall of Famer.
But not much more than expert management was required from the great Tom Brady on Saturday night.
Brady threw only 25 passes (no touchdowns) and handed the ball off 45 times, No. 12's burden lifted by the Patriots rushing for 234 yards and a franchise playoff-record six touchdowns. New England did so while stomping the Indianapolis Colts, 43-22, in an AFC divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium, sending the Patriots off to the AFC title game for the third straight year.
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The Patriots will next Sunday play either the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver or the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers in Foxboro for a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII down the road in New Jersey. The Patriots split the last two AFC title games with the Ravens in Foxboro.
"It's pretty consistent," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said about the Patriots again reaching this stage of the playoff saga. "We do it year-in and year-out, and that starts with the way that we're coached, how we go about playing situational football, which is huge in the NFL. (Coach) Bill (Belichick) says it all the time: There are more games that are lost than won. You just try not to put yourself in a position to make the mistakes to lose a game.
Since they last won a Super Bowl nine seasons ago when Corey Dillon ran strong, the Patriots have placed a disproportionate burden on Brady's right arm. On this rainy night, though, they danced to the hoof beats of 6-foot, 250-pound LeGarrette Blount, whose four touchdowns set the team single-game playoff record and whose 166 rushing yards on 24 carries tied Curtis Martin's team playoff record.
"Half of those runs you see, that's Tom reading the defense and checking to those runs," said Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. "He's not throwing the ball, but he's making plays and reading defenses, so he looked good to me."
And Brady did do something Saturday night that he had not done since playing for Michigan in the 2000 Orange Bowl against Alabama. One of the NFL's all-time greatest quarterbacks was pressed into serving as the holder on two second-half extra-points. The team's regular holder, Ryan Allen, also the punter, suffered a shoulder injury while getting trampled retrieving a high snap in the second quarter, a play that resulted in a safety for the Colts. "I was happy to help the team," said Brady, never even a holder at practice. "Maybe I'll try renegotiating my contract or something for doing more work."
Place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski took over the punting duties (41.8 average on five punts). Just another complication for this irrepressible team that has dealt with more than its share of difficulties this season.
Meanwhile, Blount, acquired last April in exchange for Olympic relay sprinter Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, has come on of late as the NFL's most unstoppable force. During an even rainier regular-season finale, Blount set a team record with 334 all-purpose yards (189 rushing, 145 on kick returns). He was once famous only for punching a Boise State player in the face after a 2009 game while he was playing at Oregon.
"I feel like (Patriots coaches) have had a lot of trust in me from the beginning until now," said Blount, whose first three touchdowns Saturday night were battering-ram 2-yard runs, his fourth a 73-yard sprint to a 36-22 lead with 12:55 to play.
"There's nothing better than seeing that big guy out in the open field," said Patriots guard Logan Mankins. "He grabs another gear from somewhere, and he starts moving, and you know none of those safeties and corners want to tackle him."
So on this night the mighty quarterbacking burden fell on the Colts' Andrew Luck, seven days after he engineered the second-largest comeback in playoff history against the Kansas City Chiefs. At age 24, Luck is 12 years younger than Brady. He should therefore probably outlast Brady and eventually gain easier access to playoff glory than what he encountered Saturday night.
Luck learned what so many other ambitious and talented quarterbacks learned before him: January is Brady and Belichick's football business.
Brady, the winningest QB in postseason history (now 18-7) also had the superior supporting cast, which never let up on the Comeback Colts on New England's way to the AFC championship game for the 10th time in franchise history, the eighth time during the Brady-Belichick Era.
The victory Saturday was Belichick's 19th in the postseason as an NFL head coach, which ties The Hooded One for second all-time with Don Shula. Tom Landry tops the list with 20. Considering all New England's injuries this season, many hail this as Belichick's best coaching job, which is like comparing Rembrandts.
Rain fell hard four hours before kickoff. Tarps covered Gillette Stadium's fake grass. No fans were yet in the stadium when the PA system briefly roared to life with "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones 3 1/2 hours before kickoff.
At kickoff, it was 57 degrees, with wind gusts of 29 miles per hour. But the rain had lessened.
Those rugged indoors men from Indianapolis wouldn't fade away until the fourth quarter.
Luck arrived here lugging none of the playoff demons that have piled up on the famous quarterback he was drafted to replace last season in Indianapolis.
But on the third play from scrimmage, Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard intercepted a Luck pass. Blount scored on the next play, a 2-yard run to make it 7-0 just 1:19 into the game.
Luck finished 20 of 41 for 331 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. (The four interceptions by the Patriots' defense tied a team playoff record, done last against Manning in the 2003 AFC title game). Brady completed 13 of 25 passes for 198 yards. He did not throw a touchdown or an interception.
"On my shoulders for throwing those picks," said Luck. "We just couldn't overcome it."
Now on to the possibility of Brady-Manning XV occurring next Sunday. Last year the Ravens messed up a widely anticipated playoff renewal of the NFL's greatest quarterbacking rivalry, winning the Super Bowl in the process. On Saturday night, Brady and the Patriots did their part.
Can Manning on Sunday do his?
But while Patriots fans are always up for a spirited week of debating Brady vs. Manning, no doubt they would still prefer a simple Brady vs. Rivers lopsided debate.
Follow David Pevear on Twitter and Tout @merganser10