FOXBOROUGH — Playing in his first playoff game, running back LeGarrette Blount made it a night to remember, rushing for a franchise-record four touchdowns, three in the first half, as the Patriots pounded the Indianapolids Colts, 43-22, Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
Thje Patriots advance to the AFC Championship game for the third straight season and eighth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. They await the winner of Sunday’s Denver-San Diego matchup.
If the top-seeded Broncos win, the second-seeded Patriots will travel to the Mile High City; if the sixth-seeded Chargers pull off the upset, they will travel to Foxborough.
Blount’s first three scoring carries went for 2 yards, with the third done with some flair: he jumped over left guard Logan Mankins, then rolled down the back of center Ryan Wendell and into the end zone.
The first two came behind the left side of the offensive line, Mankins and Nate Solder.
His four rushing touchdowns set a team record; multiple players have run for three TDs in a regular-season game, and Curtis Martin had three against the Steelers in a 1996 playoff game.
In total, the Patriots had six rushing touchdowns, also a franchise record. Stevan Ridley had the other two TDs. Blount rushed for 166 yards, tying the franchise postseason mark of Martin, set in 1997 against the Steelers.
That meant New England put 40-plus points on the board without Tom Brady throwing for a single touchdown.
The talkative 27-year-old, acquired from Tampa Bay on draft weekend last year in exchange for Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, has been stellar in recent weeks, with 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills.
It didn’t take the Patriots long to get on the board.
The Colts, who pulled off an impressive, 45-44 come-from-behind win against the Chiefs on wild-card weekend a week ago, won the coin toss and elected to receive. On third down, quarterback Andrew Luck threw for LaVon Brazill, who was covered by Alfonzo Dennard.
Dennard, who sat out the Bills game with an injury, stepped in front of Brazill for his second interception of the season, and returned it to the 2, setting up Blount’s first touchdown.
After a three-and-out by the Colts on their second possession, the New England offense went back to work. A third-and-5 pass to Shane Vereen picked up 13 yards, then one play later Julian Edelman had a 25-yard catch-and-run.
Danny Amendola, another first-year Patriot playing in his first postseason game, got New England in a goal-to-go situation with a 16-yard reception, and two snaps later, Blount was in the end zone again.
On the pass to Amendola, Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 6,000 yards in the postseason.
But the Colts, who fought back from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit against Kansas City last weekend, put together a seven-play scoring drive, the touchdown a 38-yard sideline pass from Luck to Brazill, who made a terrific catch.
The Patriots scored again in the second quarter on a methodical, 14-play drive in which their top three running backs — Blount, Vereen and Stevan Ridley — touched the ball.
Indianapolis answered with a 36-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri but couldn’t advance in the red zone. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower stuffed Donald Brown on a second-down carry, and an incomplete pass followed, forcing the Colts to a field goal attempt.
An odd series of events on special teams marred an otherwise strong first half for the Patriots.
Punting from their 44 after taking a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty, long snapper Danny Aiken made a rare mistake, launching the ball over the head of rookie punter Ryan Allen.
Allen chased the ball down and rather than kicking it through the end zone, he picked it up near the goal line and ended up getting belted; a Colts player smacked the ball into the end zone, and it was ruled a safety.
Allen took the ensuing free kick, but clutched at his right shoulder and left the game. Stephen Gostkowski took the Patriots’ final punt of the first half, which he boomed 53 yards.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.