LeGarrette Blount ran the New England Patriots into their third straight American Football Conference championship game, while Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns as the Seattle Seahawks won their National Football Conference playoff.
Blount had four touchdown runs as New England kept Andrew Luck from a second straight comeback victory, beating the Indianapolis Colts 43-22.
Steven Hauschka kicked three field goals in blustery conditions as the top-seeded Seahawks beat the New Orleans Saints 23-15 and advanced to the NFC championship game for the second time in club history.
Blount scored on three 2-yard runs in the first half, then burst through the right side of the line and rambled 73 yards into the end zone, where he placed the ball gently on the ground made soggy by a game-long rain. He finished with 166 yards on 24 carries.
On the next series, Luck threw his third interception and the Patriots capitalised with Stevan Ridley’s second touchdown run, a 1-yarder that finished the scoring with 11:12 left.
The Patriots (13-4) will face the winner of the game between the Broncos and Chargers. It will be in Denver if the Broncos win, and New England will host it if the Chargers win. The Colts (12-6) never led.
“It’s just a great achievement,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we’ve got a locker room full of believers.”
Blount joined Ricky Watters, who had five touchdowns for San Francisco on Jan. 15, 1994, as the only players with four or more in a playoff game. And the six rushing touchdowns by the Patriots tied the 49ers’ total in that game for second most in playoff history.
Seattle will host San Francisco or Carolina next Sunday. Seattle last reached the conference title game in the 2005 playoffs.
Seattle shut out the Saints in the first half, got Lynch’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 of the regular season and received a spark from the brief return of Percy Harvin before he left with a concussion. Lynch scored on a 15-yard run in the first half and capped the victory with a 31-yard scoring run with 2:40 left that coach Pete Carroll celebrated by jumping into offensive line coach Tom Cable’s arms. Lynch stiff-armed Keenan Lewis on his way to the end zone for the clinching score that left CenturyLink Field swaying.
While the clinching score lacked the stunning explosiveness of Lynch’s “Beast Quake” touchdown run against the Saints in the 2010 playoffs, this one was more important. It ensured Seattle would not be the latest No. 1 seed to get upset by a No. 6 seed in the divisional round.
Lynch finished with 28 carries and made up for another shaky day passing by Russell Wilson. Seattle’s offense was a concern heading into the postseason and, outside of Lynch, did little to quell those worries.