INDIANAPOLIS – Since 2003, the team that has represented the AFC in the Super Bowl has had their path go through the New England Patriots six different times.
The Colts have made it very clear that the goal is to play on Feb. 2 and in order to take the field for Super Bowl XLVIII the path goes through Foxborough on Saturday night.
Chuck Pagano's last time in Gillette Stadium was for the 2012 AFC Championship when a missed field goal in the last minute cost Baltimore a potential trip to the Super Bowl.
This week, Pagano was asked about his last trip to New England and the coach joked that if the Ravens had won that game then he "probably wouldn't be standing here having this presser."
But Pagano is here, and the Colts are going to take on a team they have a ton of recent history with in the month of January.
These Patriots though aren't the same high-octane passing attacks with some of the game's top receiving targets.
Instead, New England has relied on a balanced offense with the emergence of 250-pound back LeGarrett Blount leading the Patriots ground game.
"The running game has been critical to the success of our team this year. It's been really a strength of ours," Tom Brady said earlier this week.
"Some of our best playmakers are in the backfield and like I said, our offensive line has really taken a lot of pride in establishing a certain level of physical play."
The Colts head into the Saturday night's Divisional Round matchup fresh off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
Andrew Luck overcame three interceptions to orchestrate five second-half touchdown drives.
This week's setting though won't be the friendly atmosphere of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck and the Colts will head to Gillette off of a week preparing against a future Hall of Fame coach in Bill Belichick.
Saturday's matchup will be Luck's second against Belichick and the Colts quarterback spoke very highly of the defense he will encounter this weekend.
"They do a great job of disguising their defenses," Luck said of the Patriots defense. "Everything seems to look the same, then you blink for a second and it's completely different and you've screwed up. We have to be on our Ps and Q. We're excited about it, excited to face a great team like them."
The challenge for the Colts on Saturday is trying to give New England its first home loss of the 2013 season.
There's not a player inside the Colts locker room that is more familiar with the task of knocking off the Patriots in January than Robert Mathis.
Last week, there was Mathis once again making a game-changing play to ignite the momentum.
That has carried into this week and for the guys who might not be used to past Patriots/Colts battles, Mathis has a message for them.
"Our young guys, they know how serious it is. We've come a long way this season and they know the goal, and what it's going to take to carry out that goal," Mathis said.
"There's a giant in New England that we have to slay, so we have to go up there and try and take care of business."INTERESTING MATCHUPSPatriots quarterback Tom Brady versus the Colts defense:This Patriots team is one of the most balanced offenses that they have had in the past decade Brady has quarterbacked them. With adverse weather conditions expected, the Patriots could lean even heavier on the ninth ranked rushing attack in the league. However, the game will still come down to Brady's ability or inability to make plays. Can the Colts pass rush keep Brady from "bouncing" in the pocket and get him off his spot?Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton versus the Patriots secondary: Hilton has combined for 24 catches and 379 yards the last two weeks. He shredded the Chiefs secondary and has received a ton of attention in New England this week. Patriots Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib could find himself shadowing Hilton come Saturday. Talib has done a great job against the likes of A.J. Green and Jimmy Graham this year but has struggled against smaller, quicker receivers like Hilton.Quick Facts
-Since 2001, the Colts have made 11 postseason appearances, the most in the NFL.
-Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is the sixth player in NFL history with 10 100-yard receiving games in his first two seasons.
-Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis (20.5 sacks) will play in his 18th career playoff game on Saturday. He's one away from tying the club record for most playoff games played with the Colts.
-The Patriots have secured a playoff bye for the fourth straight season.
-In Week 17, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount had 334 total yards (189 rush, 145 kickoff return), which is the most in a game in Patriots franchise history.
-Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones hails from Brownsburg, Ind. (Bowling Green State University) and led all AFC rookies with six tackles.
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what becomes more important the deeper you go in the playoffs):
-"Well, margin for error keeps shrinking, obviously. It's minute. Again, you can't beat yourself. We know Coach Belichick and his staff and his team, they don't beat themselves. They don't make mistakes. We talk all the time about, you don't win games in the National Football League, you lose games. And it's one-and-done. So at the end of the day, you can't go turn the ball over. You can't make mistakes. You can't have mental errors. You can't have foolish penalties. You can't give up big plays. You got to do all the things offensively that we just talked about to them, and so the margin for error is very, very small. And even so much as far as being on the road and playing the team that we're playing, where we're playing, the elements, crowd noise, all that stuff. We're chasing perfection, trying to every single day that we come in here. And so we're going to go try to play the best game that we can possibly play."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on if the Colts will blitz Tom Brady):
-"I think you got to do a great job of mixing it up. It can't be something that you do all the time. You just got to do a great job of mixing it up. Our guys have to do a great job of disguising. There's nothing that Tom hasn't seen, as you know. Got great recall. Again, they do a great job with their system, the way they run their offense of trying to get you to show your hand, so to speak. We got to do a great job pre-snap and post-snap, whether we're playing coverage or going after them.
Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on the importance of stopping the run this week):
-"First and foremost, the biggest thing is always stop the run. They have two good backs in the backfield in (LeGarrette) Blount and (Stevan) Ridley. Those guys run in between the tackles and they run outside the tackle box really well. The challenge is in the trenches, period. We have to out-physical, out-play and out-hustle their offensive line to get to the ball carrier, period. No ifs ands or buts about it. These games now, going towards the Super Bowl, the game is won in the trenches. You have to compete and stop the run and just like last week and just like Week 1 all the way up until now. You don't stop the run, you have no chance of being successful. That's what we got to do."Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on if he's surprised by what he's seen from Andrew Luck in Year Two):
-"No, a really complete player. Great long-ball thrower. Very accurate. Has a good touch on short, intermediate passes. Reads defenses well. Does a good job checking plays at the line of scrimmage and making some of those adjustments. Active in the pocket. Hard guy to tackle. Hard guy to bring down. Good feet. Can scramble and run. Can scramble and buy time to throw. Has good vision down the field. Makes good decisions. There's not really any weaknesses to his game."Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on his impressions of Pep Hamilton and the Colts offense):
-"They've had a variety of success in their offense doing a number of different things. They've been no-huddle. They've been three receivers and a tight end personnel like they were against Kansas City. In other games at other times, they've used bigger people, two tight ends, two backs, extra linemen, and been productive running the ball and throwing play-action passes, downfield throws. They've shown that they can be balanced. They've shown that they can run the ball. They've shown that they can throw it when they have to throw it. He does a good job of misdirection. Again, downfield-type plays, whether they're just deep balls or some kind of designed play to free somebody up down the field. They execute very well. They don't turn the ball over much. Don't get many penalties. Don't have many negative plays. They're not in a lot of long-yardage situations. They're a physical running team. They also have good balance in the passing game. He's done a real good job with the offense and they can attack you and hurt you in a lot of different ways."Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady(on his appreciation for Robert Mathis):
-"Oh, he's an unbelievable player. Just an unbelievable talent. He's got incredible athleticism and he's so smart. He's got a lot of moves. He's very fundamentally, technically sound as a player. We played against him when he and Dwight Freeney were on opposing sides and there was no time for the quarterback to be able to throw. And what Robert's done this year with leading the league in sacks and strip-sacks and creating big plays for their defense has really been huge. He's a great player. You try to put guys around him and double team him, but he still seems to be making all the plays. I just know I don't have a lot of time back there in the pocket to sort things out. We got to try and get the ball to our guys as quickly as we can so he's not ruining the game."