BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are the No. 2 seed in the AFC, heading to the playoffs where they’ll host a divisional round game. When their yet-to-be determined opponent enters Gillette Stadium, they’ll have to worry about the usual suspects of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but after the Patriots’ victory on Sunday, playoff opponents are going to have to worry about someone new: LeGarrette Blount.
The fourth-year running back turned in the best performance of his career on Sunday, rushing for 189 yards and two touchdowns while at times looking like an unstoppable bull charging through helpless defenders, often making opponents choose to step out of his way rather than attempt to take him down.
“Clearly the best player on the field,” Bill Belichick said of Blount after his team clinched a first-round playoff bye for the eighth time in the last 13 years. “He had a tremendous day.”
That day went far beyond the statistics — though those were rather eye-popping — in that defenses will have to choose between two undesirable options come January: bring in an extra defensive back or two to try to limit Brady, or keep the big bodies on the field to try to limit Blount from rolling like a bowling bowl right through a handful of bodies. Choosing the former runs the risk of Blount going off like he did on Sunday; choosing the latter leaves you susceptible to Brady, the greatest postseason quarterback in the NFL.
On Sunday, the Bills got burned by Blount time and time again when they geared up to stop Brady and the passing game, and it displayed just how tricky it’s going to be for the Patriots’ postseason opponents. When Blount’s two kick returns of 83 and 62 yards are factored in, the running back showed he’s got plenty of speed to go with his power running game, too.
“It’s pretty deceptive. Me being the size that I am, it’s different,” Blount said of his ability to burst when he sees daylight. “It brings another dimension to my game, for the fact that people have to respect that I have that kind of speed now.”
Of course, if Sunday had been the first glimpse of Blount’s effectiveness, it would be a leap to say that it will make a profound impact on the playoffs. But Blount has played all season like a man who doesn’t ever believe one single opponent can take him down. The only difference on Sunday was that he was proven to be correct in that assertion for the full 60 minutes of the football game.
“Well, he’s big and when he gets going downhill, he’s just a big guy – bigger than anybody that’s trying to tackle him,” quarterback Tom Brady said of the 6-foot, 250-pound running back. “So he can just put his head on the pile and the offensive line knows that if they’ve got a hat on a hat, we’re going to make some yards. He did that today.”
Blount’s performance, both in the running game and as a kick returner, led to the running back earning a standing ovation and a hug on the field from Belichick, a man who doesn’t typically show that kind of emotion, especially in a regular-season situation.
“He carried the team on his back most of the day,” Belichick said of Blount. “He had [334 all-purpose] yards. I don’t know how much more we had besides that, but I’d say he did the bulk of it, no question. He had some help, but he did a great job. Tremendous.”
“It was just the excitement of us winning this game and getting that first-round bye in the playoffs,” Blount said of what spurred the embrace with his head coach. “We can go into this week and we can get a lot of rest.”
Nobody earned that extra weekend of rest quite like Blount, who will likely need a few trips to the massage table this week after absorbing three or four hits nearly every time he carried the football. But with his first trip to the postseason on its way, you won’t hear Blount complaining. You also won’t see him change one thing about his approach once Brady hands him in the football in January.
“Same mind-set I have now,” Blount said of his plans for the postseason. “I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play my game. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play physical, I’m going to run hard, I’m going to fight for extra yardage and just do everything I can to just come out there and win that next game.”
If a well-rested Blount plays anything like he did in Week 17, his efforts are sure to go a long way in securing a whole lot more than just a first-round bye for the Patriots.