Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Howard Ulman
The Associated Press
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — LeGarrette Blount’s first season with the New England Patriots started slowly. It’s picking up speed at the right time.
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs past Buffalo Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham (53) on Dec. 29 in Foxborough, Mass.
The Associated Press
The 250-pound bulldozer charges into the first playoff game of his four NFL seasons after a breakout performance – a team-record 344 all-purpose yards, a personal-best 189 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
That helped the Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills 34-20 in the regular-season finale and clinch a first-round bye.
On Saturday night, the Patriots (12-4) face the Indianapolis Colts (12-5) in an AFC semifinal.
“We’ve been out here in the cold,” Blount said after practice Wednesday with the temperature in the teens, “trying to get used to it and see how it’s going to be for the game.”
Bad weather wasn’t a problem against Buffalo. In a game-long downpour, he had 36- and 35-yard touchdown runs, and returned kickoffs 83 and 62 yards.
And Blount’s 189 yards rushing were just 76 fewer than his total of 265 in his first eight games. He nearly doubled that in the next eight games with 507 yards as he learned the offense in his first season after being traded from Tampa Bay, which drafted him in 2010.
“I feel like I ran hard in the beginning also, but it’s just as the season went on I got more comfortable,” Blount said. “I just kind of figured out a lot more about the offense to be a little bit more successful.”
Now he’s part of a deep group of running backs with different styles.
Blount runs over defenders. Stevan Ridley cuts between them. Shane Vereen catches passes against them. Brandon Bolden does all that.
“It wears and tears on the defense,” Blount said. “They get tired of hitting backs like me, like Rid, like Brandon. And they get tired of chasing Shane around. So I feel like if you do that to them for a while, sooner or later they’re going to crack.”
Combine that with Tom Brady’s leadership and passing, and the defense has plenty to worry about.
Special teams, too.
Until this season Blount never had returned a kickoff in the NFL. He’s done it 17 times for the Patriots for an average of 29.1 yards despite having a much bigger body than most top returners.
Or because of it.
“Being my size definitely helps,” Blount said. “I get to come out running full speed. And then another part of it is the kickoff team has to run all the way down there to tackle you and then once you break their line of defense then they have to turn around and chase you.”
But he knows returners like Leon Washington and Devin Hester, two of the best in NFL history, have something extra.
“The 83-yarder I had probably would have been a touchdown with one of those guys,” Blount said.
Brady isn’t complaining about any of his backs.
“That’s been a big strength of our team to take a lot of pressure off our passing game,” he said. “Guys that are able to go in there and really impose their physical style of play against the other team, and the way we did it two weeks ago against Buffalo was awesome.”
The Patriots rushed for a season-high 267 yards against the Bills, with Ridley gaining 74.
Another big ground game could be coming against the Colts, who gave up the seventh-most yards rushing in the league.
“It’s a heck of a challenge,” Indianapolis Coach Chuck Pagano said. “They’ve got a stable of guys that are all more than capable.”
In their last three games, the Patriots have rushed for an average of 168.3 yards.
But if the Colts focus too much on stopping that, Vereen can catch a short pass and run. He had 47 receptions despite missing eight games with a broken wrist.
Defenses try to stop him by showing “different looks,” he said, “trying to keep offenses on their toes, not really knowing what you’re going to get until the ball’s actually snapped.”
They do know what they’ll get from Blount – a powerful runner who barges through opponents.
“I’m sure it’s hard to bring (him) down,” Vereen said. “I wouldn’t want to do it. That’s why I play offense.”