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AFC Championship Preview: Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

Intro: Sixty minutes in Foxborough will decide if the Colts’ playoff run will take them to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX. Here is the AFC Championship preview of the Colts and Patriots meeting at 6:40 p.m. EST on Sunday.



INDIANAPOLIS – The shirts began in 2012 as a point of motivation.

Power ranking No. 32 helped fuel a new era of Colts football with a nine-win turnaround earning a playoff berth.

The phrase "Hoist It" was printed across the 2013 shirt, reinforcing what the ultimate goal was. A return to the top of the AFC South came in 2013, but the ultimate dream died in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The word "decide" was spelled out underneath an image of the Lombardi Trophy in 2014.

Pagano's message behind this year's shirt?

"What are you willing to sacrifice to hoist that trophy and dance under the confetti?"

The sacrifices for the 2014 Colts have led them to this moment.

Preparation is complete, and now 60 minutes is what remains between the Colts playing for the chance to hoist that trophy.

The Colts head back to Foxborough on Sunday, where the 2013 run came to an abrupt halt after a Patriots ground attack controlled the line of scrimmage in their 43-22 playoff victory last year.

In the 2014 regular season, another committed run game performance did the Colts in with (another) one-possession game early in the fourth quarter ending in a three-score loss.

Colts safety Mike Adams called the Week 11 run defense from the Colts "demoralizing."

"It was one of those feelings where they just out-toughed us," Adams said this week looking back on the regular season loss to the Patriots. "They played hard. They beat us. They beat us pretty good. Anytime a single running back rushes for 200 yards on a defense where we were considered one of the top defenses, it gives you something to think about."

Adams would go on to say the Colts defense has "buckled down" lately in the run department.

The numbers back that up, with the unit holding elite backs in Arian Foster, DeMarco Murray and Jeremy Hill well below their averages.

With the Colts returning to New England this weekend, it's a spot where Chuck Pagano saw his life take a dramatic turn.

As a 2011 defensive coordinator with the Ravens, Pagano watched his Super Bowl aspirations fall in the game's final minutes.

Days later, he was named Colts head coach.

Three years later, Pagano is heading back to Foxborough for another AFC Championship tilt.

Pagano was asked earlier this week if he was still stewing over that AFC Championship loss with the Ravens.

"I still am to be honest with you," Pagano said.

"It's so hard, as you guys know, as everybody in this room knows, to win football games. It's so hard to get to this point. All the sacrifice, all the blood, sweat and tears that these players and coaches, everything that they sacrificed and to be that close and not have an opportunity to go play for it all, when you think back on it, it still sits in your craw. So now I'm just fortunate and we're all fortunate to have another opportunity to advance."

The opportunity comes against a team the Colts have seen now 16 times since 2003.

Dwayne Allen has been in the trenches of Colts/Patriots matchups and spoke to his feelings heading into another matchup.

"Some people around town want to call it a rival. It's not a rival," Allen said. "The Patriots have flat out beaten us down the last three years that this crew has been here."

"It's time. It's time for us to grow up."INTERESTING MATCHUPSPatriots tight end Rob Gronkowski versus the Colts defense:While the Colts stopping the run is clearly priority No. 1 this weekend, let's not sleep on Gronk. It's pretty amazing that Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky did not get one question about Gronk in his 11-question media session on Thursday. The Colts *held *Gronk to four catches in their regular season meeting, but they were impactful plays in deciding a contest that was a one-score affair in the fourth quarter. Expect a variety of body types to be thrown Gronk's way on Sunday.Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton versus the Patriots secondary: This will be the premier individual matchup to watch when the Colts have the ball on Sunday. The Patriots held Hilton to a season-low 24 receiving yards on three catches back in Week 11. In that mid-November matchup, Hilton saw a combination of cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Devin McCourty shadow the Pro Bowler for nearly the entire game. If it's not the Arrington/McCourty duo again on Sunday, look for All-Pro Darrelle Revis to spy Hilton, which in turn opens things up for other Colts pass catchers to make a serious impact.  Quick Facts

-Quarterback Andrew Luck has recorded the most passing yards (1,703) in a player's first five playoff games in NFL history.

-Running back Boom Herron has 18 catches in 19 targets this postseason.

-Adam Vinatieri will set an NFL record on Sunday by playing in his 30th career postseason game.

-The Patriots have won their last 74 games at home when leading at halftime.

-The Patriots are 8-1 at home this season and have outscored teams by an average of 15 points at Gillette Stadium.

-In their last two games against the Colts, the Patriots have amassed 480 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on if stopping the run is the top priority against the Patriots):

-"I think that was brought up earlier in this presser, right? The numbers speak for themselves, and if we don't get that fixed and they're able to run the ball the way that they've run it the last couple meetings, then we're going to have a long, hard day. But having said that, I think our guys are playing with a tremendous amount of confidence right now and our run defense has been as good as it's been. We've had some moments obviously this year, but again, we've got to go do the job. Talking about it is one thing, but we've got to go up there and we've got to do the job and stop the run."

Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the difference of using a linebacker or a safety on tight end Rob Gronkowski):

-"Other than athleticism, height, weight and speed, all the measurables we know. It's a daunting task no matter who you put on him. Whether you have a linebacker that can run, he's bigger and physical but he may not have the coverage ability because he doesn't do it that much. Put a safety on him and he might not have the stature that a linebacker has, but runs better and those kind of things. I think you've just got to do a good job of mixing things up and making it as difficult as you can, and just try to slow him down if you can."Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck(on if there's a bit more excitement knowing that it's the Patriots across the field this weekend):

-"Yeah, I think there's a competitive spirit in all of this. 'Hey, the harder it is, the better. Let's go try and make it happen,' but we're just excited to play a really good Patriots team on the road. Maybe there's a little extra excitement because of that, but to be in the AFC Championship, that's great, but you've got to go out and win. Simple."

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on how Andrew Luck has changed since entering the NFL):

-"He's pretty good. He was pretty good when he came in, and he's even better now. He's a great player. He does everything well. He's got a lot of strengths, no weaknesses. He's got a great future in front of him. He's already produced a lot. He's already done a lot in the time that he's been in the league, and I'm sure by the time he gets done he'll pass a lot of guys by."

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on how the Colts have used their running backs out of the backfield lately):

-"All their backs have been productive in the passing game – [Ahmad] Bradshaw when he played, [Trent] Richardson. And then when you include Doyle, I'm sure that those backs have over 100 catches – whatever you want to call Doyle, a back or a tight end – he plays both. But their running back position just by itself between Bradhsaw, Richardson and Herron, there's got to be 80-some catches in that ballpark there with those guys. So they've always been involved in the passing game. And Moncrief is just another weapon for them. Moncrief, [Hakeem] Nicks, [Reggie] Wayne and T.Y. [Hilton], plus Fleener, who's really part receiver, part tight end, that's a lot of juice at that position. [They're] guys that can all make catches down the field, they've all made catch and run plays. They're fast, they're athletic, they're big, there are a lot of them, and they've got a great quarterback throwing to them. Moncrief is definitely a problem. He took an under route against somebody – I forget who it was, Tennessee or somebody – a two-yard pass ends up being a 50-yard gain. He can run through the defense and take it over the top, too, which they all can. Hilton has done that, I know Fleener's done it, they've all done it. They stretch the field. You've got to defend from sideline to sideline and from the line of scrimmage to the goal line. They can take short plays and turn them into long plays and they can throw it over the top and they can throw it in between. Really, it's a very explosive group."

Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady(on what has impressed him most about what the Colts did to the Broncos last week):

-"They've done a number on a lot of teams this year. They've got a good rush. They've got a couple good edge guys, really athletic linebackers, and one of their corners is in the Pro Bowl, two experienced players in the secondary. Mike Adams had a great game against us last time, and [Greg] Toler has had a great year, really an underrated player in my estimation. He does a great job. So, they challenge you at all levels. I think that's the important thing is nothing is easy. They want to get up in your face and make you make the plays. So, that's what we'll have to be ready to do. We have to be ready for that type of challenge. Hopefully we can go out there and execute against it, but they make it tough on you."

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