FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Coach Bill Belichick can at times be reserved in his assessments of his players, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday following LeGarrete Blount's historic performance in the New England Patriots' regular-season finale, during which Blount amassed a franchise-record 334 total yards.
“Clearly [he was] the best player on the field,” Belichick said of Blount. “He had a tremendous day.”
“He carried the team on his back most of the day,” he later added. “He had 330-something yards, I don’t know how much more we had besides that.”
Belichick went so far as taking Blount out one play into the final series of the game so Blount could receive an ovation from the fans.
Blount set a career high with 189 yards rushing, including a pair of scores, giving him four touchdowns in the final two regular-season games.
Beyond his rushing contributions, Blount kick-started two other drives with massive kickoff returns, following up an 83-yarder with a 62-yard return in the fourth quarter (the two longest kick returns for the Patriots this season).
It was a memorable day for a player many had cast off following a disappointing 2012 season with the Buccaneers, as he finished with just 151 yards rushing all season.
But cornerback Aqib Talib wasn’t one of those who lost faith in Blount, as Belichick explained his influence on the decision to trade for Blount this past offseason.
“I think definitely the assist on this one has to go to our assistant personnel director, Talib,” Belichick said light-heartedly after the game. “I talked to [Talib] before we traded for LeGarrette and everything he said about him [turned out to be] right.”
“I put a GM hat on, he gave me a call, you know,” Talib said in the locker room after the game. “Had to meet with him, I put my GM hat on, you know, we talked a little about it and then we pulled the trigger together.”
How exactly did Talib sell Belichick on Blount to help seal the deal?
“I just told him he’d get a lot of explosive plays from him, he’d get a great locker room guy, and a great teammate, and that’s what we got,” Talib said.
Hard to argue with the cornerback’s assessment, just as it’s hard to question the Patriots' decision to ship away speedy return man Jeff Demps (plus a draft pick) in exchange for Blount and a draft pick from the Buccaneers.
Blount has worked himself into a starting role for the Patriots, providing them a hammerhead runner that, as was witnessed on Sunday, has big-play ability to boot.
And while his coach was quick to heap praise on his work, Blount was just as quick to share praise with those generating the spaces for him to run through.
“On the returns that I had, I didn’t get touched for like the first 30 yards,” Blount said. “I take my hat off to those guys, the core special teams guys. We have a Pro Bowler in [Matthew] Slater, so I take my hat off to those guys.
“And [the] offensive line played amazing for both of us, me and [Stevan] Ridley and Shane [Vereen],” he continued. “The offensive line played amazing for us, and you can never give them enough credit.”
Sunday’s game conditions -- a consistent driving rain -- weren’t conducive to some elements of the offensive game plan, as the Patriots had some struggles in the passing game. But it was tailor made for the road-grading Blount, whose 250-pound frame and foot quickness translated in a major way.
The Bills were no match for Blount, and neither were the poor conditions.
“It’s just a mindset and the will of what’s at stake and the urgency that we have to have to continue to be successful and how important this first-round bye was,” Blount said of finding success in the rain.
The win earned the Patriots a first-round bye in the playoffs.
After three seasons in Tampa Bay, the latter two of which were littered with losses and a decreasing role for Blount, the 27-year-old finds himself in new territory: headed to the postseason for the first time in his career.
And while Blount is no doubt excited for the opportunity (he was spotted wearing his AFC East champions hat into the middle of last week), he insisted after the game that his mindset doesn’t change as the NFL’s second season begins.
“Same mindset I had now,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play my game. I’m going to go out there and play physical, run hard and I’m going to fight for extra yardage and do everything I can to come on and win the next game.”