By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots behind a tremendous performance by LaGarrette Blount beat the Buffalo Bills 34-20 on Sunday in Foxboro to close out the 2013 regular season.
With the win the Patriots (12-4) secured the #2 seed of the playoffs and a first round bye. They will host a game in the divisional round on Saturday, January 11 at 8:15 p.m. The Bills (6-10) as expected, played hard and right to the end, but couldn’t cope with Blount who was, as Bill Belichick said after the game, “the best player on the field.”
Here are some observations from Sunday’s game:
Blount Trade Was Highway Robbery: Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, the spring trade for Blount by Belichick for speedy return man Jeff Demps with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was an absolute steal for the Patriots. Blount was rumored to be a malcontent, a bad-locker room guy, and lazy, supposedly sleeping through team meetings.
None of that has been in evidence this season; in fact Belichick went out of his way to praise Talib’s role in the trade stating with uncharacteristic humor, ““I think definitely the assist on this one has to go to our assistant personnel director, Talib,” Belichick said Sunday night. “I talked to Talib before we traded for LeGarrette and everything he said about him turned out to be right.”
Blount this season has been a big part of the running back by committee approach, gaining 772 yards on 153 carries for a 5.0 ypc average and 7 TDs. But Sunday was Blount’s biggest day, carrying the ball 24 times for 189 yards and 2 TDs, along with returning two kickoffs for 145 yards giving him a total of 334 total yards on the day.
Belichick gave him the rare compliment of taking him out during the last series of kneel downs by Brady at the end of the game, so that the crowd could show their appreciation. In comparison, Demps, who wanted to run track first and foremost, had eight total touches for Tampa this season before an injury ended his year.
Another Elements Day, Another Win: Sunday, the conditions were far from ideal. The rain, forecasted to be steady during the game was closer to a deluge with large puddles of water showing up all over the Gillette Stadium field by the second half.
And while the team had its share of ball control issues (4 fumbles) they didn’t lose any and were able to lean on the ground game (a season-high 267 yards) to grind out a big win and propel them to a bye and the second round of the playoffs.
With January here and the elements always in play from now until the Super Bowl, the Patriots are a team that can withstand whatever Mother Nature can bring and be successful. With that in mind….
Julian Edelman Gets His Milestones: With another gutsy performance on Sunday (9 catches 65 yards) Edelman reached season milestones with 105 receptions and 1056 yards and 6 TDs for the season. With so many of Brady’s targets from 2012 gone, he needed a familiar face to trust in the passing game and Edelman had a career year.
After Brady, one can easily make the distinction that Edelman was the MVP for the offense in 2012. The big knock on Edelman was that he couldn’t stay on the field and put together an entire season. With injuries to Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce at various times in 2013, the only constant in the Patriots passing game was Edelman.
And he showed up week after week, doing the dirty work over the middle and absorbing some tremendous hits along the way while still providing a solid, dangerous element in the punt return unit.
For a player who generated little interest as a free agent this spring and whose contract was nearly completely tied up in production milestones, it was a tremendous season and now the debate can start on if he returns next season….
The 2013 Version of New England is a Physical Football Team: Period. You can put all of those clichés about New England being a finesse team to sleep. The 2013 Patriots are more dedicated to running the football than any New England team since the Corey Dillon teams of the early 2000’s.
Even Blount who had a career day of running the football with 189 yards wanted to deflect all of the props onto the offensive line, who even banged up as they are, had a big day creating gaps for the running backs to find holes in.
“It was our offensive line,” Blount said. “All we have to do is find the holes. They blocked tremendously. They had an amazing game. It was one of our best games by our offensive line, and they played amazing throughout the whole season, and they definitely came through for us big-time today. You can’t say enough about those guys, they’re tough” he added.
The offense is designed to win in the playoffs with a seasoned, veteran QB in Brady who has won the big games, a three-headed ground game that features Stevan Ridley and Blount (773, and 772 yards rushing respectively) and Shane Vereen who can run and catch the ball out of the backfield.
Injuries Continue To Pile Up: Sunday’s game offered no respite from the rash of injuries the Patriots have suffered in 2013. Logan Mankins was helped off the field in the first half and at the time, it looked serious. However, he was able to return to the game and although limping at times, finished the day on the field. He’ll need to be monitored during the bye week.
Aaron Dobson appeared to re-injure his foot while running a deep pattern in the game and didn’t return. Brandon Spikes who has played most of this season while hobbled with a bad knee that will require surgery in the off-season, went down in the second half and also didn’t return.
The bye week is important for this team to not only recharge their batteries but lick their wounds and get the players who are playing hurt some time to heal. One look at the lengthy injury report is all that is needed to see that.
Now, it is on to the playoffs. The pretenders have been swept aside and sent packing. It is a 12-team single elimination tournament from now on. When the Patriots next play it will be down to the Great Eight.
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