EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 13, 2014

Blount a force for Patriots

Running back goes from unwanted to unstoppable

On Pro Football
David Willis

---- — FOXBORO -- He is nothing short of a human battering ram. A man whose enormous stature grows that much more jarring when you approach him at close proximity.

He is 6-foot-1, 250-plus pounds of budging muscle with dreadlocks, tree trunks for legs, a scowl and a burst of speed that a man his size has no right to possess.

With the Patriots just one victory away from a return trip to the Super Bowl, LeGarrette Blount has become the toast of New England.

The running back who less that a year ago was jettisoned by a team that would finish 2013 with just four wins and who had to scratch and claw for a spot in the Patriots’ roster, has now been transformed into New England’s most dynamic running back, and that has made Bill Belichick and company rethink the way they call an offense.

Suddenly, if the Patriots are to advance to New York to play for their fourth Super Bowl title in the Tom Brady/Belichick era -- with a victory on Sunday, when they take on the Broncos in Denver for the AFC championship -- Blount will be looked upon to play a crucial role.

“I’m so proud of him,” said longtime teammate and friend Aqib Talib. “He’s waited for this for a long time. He’s a confident guy that always believed in himself. He wanted the carries. It was only a matter of time until he broke through.”

But like this? With one of the greatest postseason performances by a running back in NFL history? And, no, that is not an exaggeration. Blount’s night on Saturday was nothing short of historic..

His four rushing touchdown runs against Indianapolis were just one fewer than the NFL playoff record, set by three-time All-Pro Ricky Watters of the San Francisco 49ers in 1993. No other back has ever scored more than three times.

Meanwhile, his 166 yards against the Colts matched Hall of Famer Curtis Martin’s Patriots postseason record -- Blount briefly broke the mark before losing a yard on his final carry -- and was the 19th best day in NFL playoff history.

“I’m really happy for him and proud to see what he has accomplished,” said fullback James Develin. “We both came here fighting for jobs. He had a tough road to make this team, so it is amazing to see the success he is enjoying. I just want to be out there right in front of him (blocking).”

Blount has had many labels over the course of his football life.

He was a college star, then a college outcast, excellent for Oregon before an altercation against Boise State saw him suspended for nearly his entire senior year.

He was an undrafted free agent, not selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Then he was signed and was cut by the Tennessee Titans before he ended up in Tampa Bay and rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie. But a year later, his production fell to 781 yards, and last season, he ended with just 151 yards in 13 games.

In the offseason, the Bucs send Blount packing, trading him to the Patriots for a part-time football player in Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps.

But with a backfield already crowded with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden, Blount was far from a sure bet to make the Pats roster.

“I was just trying to stay on the squad,” said Blount. “I knew I had to work. I just wanted to make the team and be a part of something special.”

As this season has progressed, it has been Blount who has made special plays happen. But he couldn’t possibly top the 189 yards and two-touchdown day he had against the Buffalo Bills in the regular season finale, right? It was a fluke, right?

Against the Colts on Saturday, Blount proved he was no one-game wonder. He scored the four touchdowns (with four different TD celebrations) and nearly had a fifth but ran out of gas on a late run and was caught from behind.

“It goes to show you that you never know,” said special teams ace Matthew Slater. “You really can’t say enough about what this kid has accomplished. He’s been amazing. After everything, I am really enjoying seeing him have this success.”

But now with two straight huge games under his belt and the Patriots showing a willingness to run the football with regularity, it only becomes tougher for Blount and company.

The run is no longer a change of pace. With the AFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Denver defense will be prepared to attack and stop Blount and the run while also watching out for Brady and his battered group of receivers.

If the Patriots are to return to the Super Bowl, they will need Blount to continue that success, both to help the offense and to keep the ball of the hands of the always prolific Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense.

“I don’t know how it’s working, but it’s working,” said Blount. “I’m thankful they have given me this opportunity to carry the ball, and (Saturday) carry it as much as I could handle. They have shown trust in me and I want to pay them back.”

His former roommate and now next-door neighbor believes he can keep on rolling.

“He just wanted to run the ball,” said Talib. “And he is having a heck of a time. I could run him down, heck I could walk him down, but I’m glad I don’t have to tackle him.”