That’s the question that will be asked by those that only see the 43-22 score of last night’s AFC Divisional playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots. Those that watched the game will know that the answer is zero, that’s right, 6 TDs scored (and a 2 point conversion that Brady didn’t throw either) and none were due to a Brady pass. He was actually a pedestrian 13-25 for 198 yards with 0 INTs and 0 TDs.
The Pats scored their 6 TD all by running the ball. Of course of Brady’s 13 completions a bunch came on 3rd down to keep the chain moving, but the biggest damage came from the legs of LeGarrett Blount and Steven Riddley. Blount, a cast off from Tampa Bay (thanks Greg Schiano!) that was labeled as a problem child, has pretty much owned the running game from the end of the season to now. Gee, seemed to recall another big running back the Pats had a few years back that had a similar reputation that came in and took over the running game (Corey Dillon anyone?).
The resurgence of the running game this year lies directly with changes to the offensive line that were caused by injury. Belichick, the master of amplifying the strength of the players he has, had to change his offensive game based upon injuries in the starting O-line and TE. They lost Vollmer and Gronk and had other minor injuries to other O-Line guys. They have guys like Connley and Wendell on the line, along with Nate Solder and Logan Mankins (their two best players at any position this year). Belichick realized that in order to improve the pass protection he needed to run the ball. Connley and Wendell both are better at run protection than pass protection. Gronk, a beast of a TE, only played a few games before tearing up his knee. While he could run block, he was really just another receiver, without him they have Hoomanawanui. He’s not a threat in the passing game, but he is better at run blocking than Gronk was. So, once again, Belichick took what was given him and helped craft an offensive game plan that once again has the Pats in the AFC Championship game, his 8th trip there in 14 years as Patriots head coach.
I’m not sure they will make the Super Bowl, both Denver and San Diego are two tough teams (pulling for the Chargers in that on only because it means another game in Foxborough where the Pats are tough), but with the changes they made on both sides of the ball this year, this team ranks up there with the 2001 team as my most favorite to watch.