First Down/Fourth Down: LeGarrette Blount leads way as Patriots run past Colts
“We felt like we got good value,” Bill Belichick said back in May after his Patriots traded a seventh-round draft pick and Jeff Demps to the Buccaneers for LeGarrette Blount, who had fallen out of favor (and mostly out of the lineup) in Tampa Bay.
What appeared to be a lopsided deal — Demps landed on injured reserve for the second time in two NFL seasons; Blount rushed for 772 yards and seven TDs in the regular season — turned into absolute robbery Saturday. Blount scored four touchdowns and finished with 166 yards on the ground in a 43-22 romp over the Colts. That 166-yard rushing total tied a New England postseason franchise record.
Not every move the Patriots have made under Belichick has panned out as hoped (hello, Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth). However, it does seem that this franchise pulls off this sort of trick more often than many others. Alfonzo Dennard, who had a huge interception early in this game, was a seventh-round draft pick after off-field issues pushed him down the board. Julian Edelman, the team’s leading receiver both Saturday and during the regular season, was a seventh-rounder as well.
The Patriots did not necessarily need Blount when they made the trade, and he had to work his way onto the roster. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden all sat in front of Blount on the depth chart at one point.
But the move eventually paid off, as Belichick sort of predicted it might.
More of the best and worst from New England’s divisional-round win over Indianapolis:
• First Down: Jamie Collins.
A star of the 2013 NFL combine, Collins turned in a solid rookie season. He kicked his game up a notch Saturday.
Collins picked up a sack (his first of the season and pro career), hit Andrew Luck three times, had two tackles for loss and intercepted a pass while dropping deep into coverage. The Colts simply had no answers for him, no matter where Collins opted to line up.
The Southern Miss product was New England’s first selection of the 2013 draft, at No. 52 overall after a trade down out of Round 1. And the Patriots would have been hard-pressed to find much more value had they stayed put.
• Fourth Down: Trent Richardson.
Beating a dead horse here, but …
Maybe the Colts feel obligated to give Richardson some meaningful carries after trading a first-round pick for him. Maybe they really, truly believe — for whatever currently inexplicable reason — that Richardson is their best option in short yardage. Whatever the reasoning, the Colts subbed in Richardson on a 2nd-and-goal at the New England 3, down by nine in the third quarter. Predictably, Richardson was stuffed.
Because of what it cost to acquire him and his young age (22), Richardson figures to be in the Colts’ plans heading into 2014. Unless he can shake his tendency to tip-toe around the line, though, he won’t stay there for long.
• First Down: Andrew Luck’s future.
Luck threw four interceptions Saturday, in a loss that ended his team’s season three wins shy of a championship. So, in those areas, Luck himself probably will chalk this one up as a serious disappointment.
But there is little doubt at this point that Luck is here to stay as one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Even in a difficult outing and a 21-point loss, Luck delivered several eye-popping plays, including deep balls to T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill. His ability to keep his eyes downfield despite pressure is about as good as it gets in the NFL — something he showed off versus the Patriots, completing at least two passes right as he was hammered by a rushing defender.
With Hilton, Brazill, Da’Rick Rogers, Coby Fleener and others around him, Luck should only raise his game in the coming years. That thought alone ought to give the Colts comfort as they prep for the offseason.
• Fourth Down: The Colts defense.
Two games and 88 points allowed. That’s hardly a recipe for a long playoff run — and quite frankly, it’s amazing Indianapolis made it as far as it did given the issues that presented themselves on defense. One week after allowing the Chiefs to race out to a 38-10 lead, the Colts defense had no answers for the Patriots. Perhaps most frustrating, New England barely even needed Tom Brady to break a sweat. He finished with just 198 yards passing, while the Patriots’ run game (led by Blount) rolled up 234 yards.
Even if Luck had been at his best, which he wasn’t, Indianapolis would have struggled to keep pace.
• First Down: New England at home.
According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, the Patriots entered these playoffs 80-for-80 since 2001 in home games in which they led by eight or more points. They’re now 81-for-81.
That’s a remarkable run for any team, and it played to the point many people made this week: that Indianapolis could not afford to fall behind, as it had in so many games this season. The Colts briefly threatened to erase a pair of 14-point New England leads. In the end, the Patriots pulled away … again.
• Fourth Down: Ryan Allen.
Rough day for the Patriots’ punter, who was on the receiving end of a horrendous snap that led to a safety. Allen also was injured on the play in question after chasing down a loose ball near his goal line and being sandwiched by three Colts’ defenders. The rookie was in on the ensuing free kick after the safety but left the field grabbing his right shoulder.
He did not come back onto the field with his team after halftime.
Allen’s absence left Brady to hold on the Patriots’ extra points. It also forced kicker Stephen Gostkowski to punt late in the game — and the Patriots may have to add a punter between now and the AFC title game if Allen cannot play.