FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ latest postseason run, uncharacteristically, is indeed a run. A LeGarrette Blount-led run.
The Patriots dispatched the upstart Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts Saturday night to advance to their third consecutive AFC championship game — and eighth under the direction of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady since 2001 — in a 43-22 victory in which Brady didn’t throw a single touchdown pass.
Instead, Blount continued his late-season roll by chugging along for 166 yards on 24 carries, including a franchise-record four ground scores. He led a New England attack that churned out 234 yards on 46 attempts (5.1-yard average) as a team for a team-record six rushing touchdowns, second most in NFL postseason history.
It’s a unique playoff game when New England wins and scores 43 points without Brady throwing a touchdown pass while the Patriots pick up just 198 yards through the air in the victory.
“It makes it easy when you hand it off and it goes 70 yards for a touchdown,” Brady said, referring to Blount’s 73-yard touchdown. “That’s a great feeling and great way to score. Hopefully we keep doing it. Hopefully we can do it next week, too.”
Given the momentum the rushing attack has picked up over the past month, there is no reason to see that stopping against the Broncos. New England piled up 267 yards in the regular-season finale against the Bills, with Blount leading the way with a career-high 189 yards.
That came after a 134-yard effort the previous week in a win at Baltimore.
All told the Patriots have gained 643 yards on the ground in their last three games with 10 rushing touchdowns. Blount has had two or more rushing scores in each of those games.
No one has enjoyed the increased emphasis on the running game more than the offensive line.
“I think that’s great,” Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins said of the increased focus on the ground attack that has churned out 34, 43 and 46 attempts in each of the last three games, respectively. “Me personally, I believe that our team is the best when we are running the ball like that. The more runs we get, I think the better we are and the better chance we have to win.”
Blount arrived in New England in a draft weekend trade from Tampa Bay, swapped for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick. After a complementary role on the offense during the regular season in which the former Bucs 1,000-yard rusher was second on the Patriots with 773 yards, the 250-pound surprisingly swift bruiser has been the key cog in the Patriots’ offense over the last month.
A team that has ridden its passing game to AFC title games in each of the past two years and dating back to 2007, is now running the ball as often and as successfully as any of the four remaining teams.
Blount wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m really confident,” Blount said of his role and the work being done by the Patriots’ offensive line. “Like I said, those guys in front of me, they don’t get tired. I ain’t going to get tired, and if we’re going to be able to continue running the football like that throughout the playoffs then I’ll be happy with it.”
If the results are anything like they have the last couple weeks, all of Patriots Nation will feel the same way and Brady might enjoy a new experience by riding a running game to his sixth Super Bowl appearance.
Brady’s first thoughts on playing Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC title game came during his weekly Monday morning interview on sports radio WEEI in Boston. Brady expects the world to be predicting a Broncos win on Sunday and that New England feels it is in the underdog role that the team has embraced so openly in the past.
“I know when we played Baltimore (in Week 16) nobody picked us to win, and I’m sure no one is going to pick us to win this week,” Brady told WEEI. “We’ve got a bunch of underdogs on our team and we’ll be an underdog again, and we’ll see how that shapes up at the end of the week. But I know we’re as tough, as physical as we’ve ever been, and that’s how we’re going to need to go out and play this game.”
Brady said that a win in Denver, New England’s first road playoff game since losing the AFC title game to Manning and the Colts following the 2006 season, would be “as satisfying a victory” as he has experienced in his impressive career. A big part of that is all the adversity the team has faced this season to get to the opportunity that it has created for itself.
“I think we’ve overcome a lot of things, a lot of injuries, we’ve had some amazing comebacks to get to this situation where we finished the regular season 12-4 with a lot of players filling some big roles over the course of the year,” Brady said. “And then to having really played our best football the last three weeks, and now to get a chance to go play one of the best teams in the league, it’s everything you could ask for. This is what football is all about.”
PATS NOTES: Wide receiver Aaron Dobson missed the Colts game due to a foot problem that he re-injured in the regular-season finale against the Bills. The rookie receiver missed Weeks 13-15 with the injury late in the regular season and has not practiced since limping off against Buffalo. … Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard returned to action against the Colts after sitting out the regular-season finale with knee and shoulder injuries. Dennard started and played the whole way in the win over Indy, finishing with a pair of interceptions. … Punter Ryan Allen left the divisional round victory over the Colts with a right shoulder injury late in the second quarter and did not return. The rookie suffered the injury chasing down an errant punt snap that led to a safety. He stayed into the game for the ensuing free kick, but then went to the locker room and did not return.