10 things we learned from Divisional Round Saturday

Bill Belichick, Patriots are heading back to the AFC Championship Game.

As we are knee-deep into the NFL postseason, there are still some lessons to be learned. The second Saturday in January provided some great football. While two teams will move on to Championship Weekend, the other two begin their offseason earlier than they had planned. Here are 10 things we learned from Saturday: 

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are going to their eighth AFC Championship Game. Should you really be that surprised? Nobody puts together better game plans than the man underneath the hoodie. Nobody executes those game plans better than Brady. The Colts’ secondary has its holes, but Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels believed the way to beat them was on the ground, and that’s what they did. It was an old-fashioned beating, and they established their dominance in all three phases. When Belichick took over the head coaching role in 2000, there was no predicting the type of success he would have in New England. But he has proven to be a consistent winner who is as detailed of a coach as they come.

Even Drew Brees can’t figure out how to beat Seattle’s suffocating secondary. The Saints quarterback is notably the most accurate quarterback in the game, but he had trouble connecting with his receivers Saturday in Seattle. Tight end Jimmy Graham finished with one catch for 8 yards and was a non-factor for most of the action. Wide receiver Marques Coltson was targeted 16 times and hauled in 11 receptions for 144 yards, but most of that came in desperation time. Seattle’s secondary didn’t intercept Brees, but the front seven was able to hurry him, bat the ball down and make him anxious in the pocket. Cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond III had great games anticipating routes and swatting passes away.

The 12th Man doesn’t mean automatic false starts. It’s cold, loud and wet, but that doesn’t mean the atmosphere at CenturyLink Field will automatically break a team’s focus. While the Saints made some ill-advised mistakes, they were able stay focused and not register a single false start penalty.

Andrew Luck is human. The Colts’ second-year quarterback can make some plays that only the elite ones can make, but he also makes some untimely mistakes. Luck threw four interceptions against the Patriots, which brings his postseason total to seven. Were they all his fault? Nope. Could he prevent those from happening in the future? Absolutely. What can’t be ignored is the type of weapons Luck is surrounded by. T.Y. Hilton, who finished the game with four receptions and 103 yards, was hobbled for most of the game with an undisclosed injury. LaVon Brazill, a sixth-round pick from Ohio, hauled in two touchdowns. Other receivers such as Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers are undrafted talents, but seem to find a role in Pep Hamilton’s offense. If only Reggie Wayne was healthy, where would this team be?

Marshawn Lynch is the best running back in the playoffs. Beast Mode put the Seahawks offense on his back and led them to the NFC Championship Game. Lynch finished the day with 28 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Anything left to say?

The Patriots have more weapons than you know. We all know that the Patriots lost Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez this offseason. An injury to Rob Gronkowski wouldn’t break them, either. The Patriots might not have a true No. 1 running back or wide receiver, but that doesn’t matter. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola combined for nine receptions for 161 yards on 14 targets. They were also able to run the ball 46 times for 234 yards and six touchdowns. Hey, even LeGarrette Blount made some history.

Khiry Robinson, not Mark Ingram, is the future of the Saints’ backfield. Ingram was a Heisman Trophy winner, a first-round pick and a very decorated running back when he came out of Alabama. Robinson went undrafted and didn’t receive any type of recognition during his days at West Texas A&M. While Robinson did go undrafted, Bill Parcells compared him to Curtis Martin. The Saints have plenty of running backs on their roster, but Robinson might be the most special. He finished the day with 13 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. Ingram, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, had a costly fumble in the first half. Although he had a solid performance outside that fumble, those mistakes don’t sit well with Sean Payton.

Jamie Collins became a household name. Not familiar with Collins? The Patriots outside linebacker was a third-round pick from Southern Mississippi last April and has blossomed in defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s unit. Collins had his most productive game of the season Saturday, racking up six tackles, a sack and a timely interception. Collins was also able to use his 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame to play in coverage and defend some passes. Great athlete.

Trent Richardson is going to have a long offseason. While Richardson was of value in pass protection, he struggled again in his razor-thin workload. The Colts gave Richardson an opportunity to use his downhill running style at the goal line, but he tiptoed his way into a no-yard gain. It was a disappointing season for Richardson, but he now has a full offseason to grasp the team’s playbook and get his timing down with the offense.

Percy Harvin’s first game back didn’t go as planned. It didn’t take long for the Saints to realize that Harvin was a heavy part of the Seahawks’ game plan. While Harvin has been rehabbing his surgically repaired hip, he suffered a concussion Saturday that sidelined him for the second half. Outside of the head injury, Harvin looked spry and was used in a variety of ways. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell lined up Harvin in the slot, where he hauled in a Russell Wilson loft pass to convert a critical third down. Harvin’s speed was also used on the edge as he was the main component of a fly sweep. Time will tell if he’s ready for the NFC Championship Game.

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