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Comeback Kings: Patriots thrive at late-game playoff rallies

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) Tom Brady is the comeback king in the playoffs.

From his past two Super Bowl wins to the AFC championship game rally against Jacksonville that got the Patriots to the NFL’s biggest stage for the third in four seasons, no quarterback has engineered more late-game playoff comebacks than Brady.

But he is not alone. Whether it was Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round against Kansas City earlier this postseason, or Russell Wilson against Green Bay in (2015) or Andrew Luck against the Chiefs the previous year, there have been as many playoff comebacks from at least 10 points down in the fourth quarter the past five seasons as there were the previous 26 seasons.

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“What happens is instead of playing the team, they start playing the clock. Sometimes you win and sometimes you go against a bad boy like Tom Brady and you get burned,” former Colts receiver and current NFL Network analyst Reggie Wayne said. “A lot of that falls onto the coaches. The players are going to run what the coaches call.”

Whether it’s Atlanta failing to run the ball enough late in last year’s Super Bowl that helped the Patriots rally from 28-3 down to win in overtime or Seattle’s decision to pass at the goal line instead of hand it to Marshawn Lynch back in 2015, questionable coaching decisions have contributed to some of those comebacks.

But nobody is better at exploiting those mistakes than Brady and the Patriots. He has four playoff wins in games he trailed by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter, including the “Tuck Rule” game against Oakland in 2002. No other quarterback has led more than one such comeback in playoff history.

“There’s a great belief no matter what the circumstances, that we have enough to overcome it,” Brady said. “I don’t think we want to try to overcome that again this year. That was pretty tough to do. Hopefully we can get a lead, play from ahead, play on our terms.”

The Patriots are comfortable when that happens. They are 6-6 in the playoffs when trailing after three quarters under Brady and coach Bill Belichick, while the rest of the NFL has a 27-140 record in that span with only Russell Wilson and Eli Manning having more than two fourth-quarter comebacks with four each.

Not that it is by design.

“That whole comeback thing is overrated,” said NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, who won three Super Bowl titles as Brady’s teammate in New England. “Players can’t go in and say, `Hey, we want to win this game in dramatic fashion, be down 11 with eight minutes to go and come back and have the crowd go crazy.’ You want to be in control, play a certain way and be in front. Because that changes how you play the game.”

The biggest deficit overcome to win a Super Bowl before last season was just 10 points and the Patriots were the first team to overcome a deficit that big in the second half when they did it against the Seahawks three years ago.

The only other teams to come back from 10 points down to win a Super Bowl faced those deficits early in the second quarter with New Orleans rallying against Indianapolis in 2010 and Washington against Denver in 1988.

Brady’s postseason passer rating when trailing in fourth quarter the past four years is a staggering 121.2, compared to 75.6 for the rest of the NFL.

In last year’s Super Bowl comeback, the Falcons appeared to tire and struggled to generate pressure, sending more than four pass rushers on just two of 24 pass plays in the fourth quarter.

The Jaguars also only brought more than four rushers on two of 15 fourth-quarter pass plays in the AFC title game when New England came back from 20-10 down to win 24-20.

“What teams do wrong is they go zone,” Wayne said. “He’s going to pick zone apart all day, every day. He’s going to spread you out and they’re the best at creating mismatches.”

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Colts fire coach Chuck Pagano after 4-12 season

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts fired coach Chuck Pagano on Sunday, less than two hours after they ended a 4-12 season with a 22-13 victory over Houston.

Team owner Jimmy Irsay made the announcement in a statement, wishing Pagano and his wife well in the future.

The move comes after Indy missed the playoffs for the third straight year, the team’s longest postseason drought since a seven-season absence from 1988-94.

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With Andrew Luck missing the entire 2017 season, Indy never had a chance. The Colts wound up with their first losing season since 2011, their second since 2002, and the first in Pagano’s six seasons as coach.

Pagano finished his first head coaching job with a 56-46 record, including a 3-3 mark in the playoffs.

The Colts started fast under Pagano, making the playoffs each of his first three seasons while advancing one step deeper each time.

Indy made one of the greatest one-season turnarounds in league history in 2012 as Pagano battled leukemia, then captured AFC South titles in 2013 and 2014. They advanced as far as the AFC championship game following the 2014 season, before losing at New England in what was dubbed the “Deflategate” game.

But Luck injured his throwing shoulder in the third game of the 2015 season, costing him two starts, and missed the last seven games with a lacerated kidney. The result: Indy won its final two games to go 8-8.

Pagano was rewarded with a four-year contract extension following the season, with the hope things would get better. They didn’t.

The Colts rallied to go 8-8 in 2016 when Luck missed only one start, with a concussion, before he opted for surgery on his partially torn labrum.

Irsay responded by firing general manager Ryan Grigson, bringing in Chris Ballard as the new GM, and keeping Pagano while talking about the need to return to the playoffs.

Instead, Luck’s rehab continued into October before the Colts shut down his throwing program because of lingering soreness in the shoulder. Luck went on injured reserve in November without taking a snap, and that was too much for the Colts – or Pagano – to overcome.

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Ravens beat Colts 23-16 to edge closer to playoff berth

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BALTIMORE (AP) Joe Flacco threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns, Justin Tucker kicked three field goals and the Baltimore Ravens moved a step closer to securing a playoff berth by beating the Indianapolis Colts 23-16 on Saturday.

The Ravens (9-6) scored on their first two possessions and held off the skidding Colts (3-12) in a windy, rain-soaked second half.

Baltimore will reach the playoffs as an AFC wild card by defeating Cincinnati at home next Sunday. Striving for their first postseason berth since 2014, the Ravens have won five of six following a 4-5 start.

Indianapolis made it tough on Baltimore, closing to 16-13 in the third quarter before Flacco threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams with 8:40 remaining.

It was 23-16 when Anthony Walker blocked a Ravens punt, giving the Colts the ball at the Baltimore 27 with 2:36 left. Indianapolis moved to the 10 before a third-down sack and a fourth-down incompletion ended the comeback bid.

Flacco, who went 29 for 38, has thrown for seven TDs with just one interception over his last four games.

The Colts have lost six in a row for the first time since 2011, when they opened 0-13. That was the year before they drafted quarterback Andrew Luck, whose absence this season with a shoulder injury contributed heavily to the team’s slide into the AFC South cellar.

Jacoby Brissett completed 16 of 33 passes for 215 yards and Frank Gore had 68 yards rushing and a touchdown catch for Indianapolis. More importantly, the Colts did not commit a turnover against a team that leads the NFL with 33 takeaways.

Adam Vinatieri kicked three field goals for the Colts, but he had one blocked and came up short on a 60-yard try at the end of the first half.

Flacco went 16 for 22 for 157 yards to help the Ravens take a 13-7 halftime lead.

After kicking a field goal on its first possession, Baltimore blocked a field goal try by Vinatieri. The Ravens then launched a 71-yard drive that ended with Flacco tossing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Michael Campanaro for a 10-0 lead.

Brissett answered with a 14-yard TD pass to Gore, and Tucker kicked a 39-yard field goal for Baltimore after the two-minute warning.

Tucker connected from 36 yards out to increase the lead to 16-7 with 5 1/2 minutes gone in the third quarter, but Vinatieri kicked a pair for the Colts to make it 16-13.

BLOCK THAT KICK

Baltimore’s Tony Jefferson swatted away a 38-yard FG try in the first quarter, the 13th blocked kick by the Ravens since 2014 and their fifth over the past two seasons. It was the first time the Colts had a FG blocked since Nov. 3, 2013. Vinatieri later came up short on a 60-yard try before connecting from 48 and hitting the right upright on a successful 38-yarder.

INJURY UPDATE

Colts: WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), CB Rashaan Melvin (hand) and TE Jason Vander Laan (concussion) were among seven players on the inactive list.

Ravens: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee) was on the inactive list. … CB Jaylen Hill (right knee) left in the third quarter and did not return.

UP NEXT

Colts: Wrap up this unpleasant season at home against Houston on New Year’s Eve.

Ravens: Seek their first sweep of Bengals since 2012. Baltimore won the Super Bowl that season.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL