FOXBOROUGH — Two runs from LeGarrette Blount during Sunday’s win in Atlanta made a positive impression on Patriots coaches. The first went for 47 yards. The second, officially, went for none. It’s hard to say which run was better.
Blount went virtually untouched on the 47-yarder, reaching the end zone and giving the Patriots two things: a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead, and their first rushing touchdown on the season. Later in the fourth quarter, Blount’s attempt to pick up a first down on third and 1 and clinch what would be a 30-23 victory was stopped just short.
At least that’s what the referee said. Those on the Patriots sideline weren’t convinced.
“I thought the run was about as good a run as we’ve had all year. I don’t know about the spot on that one. He did everything he could to get that first down. It was a very close play,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Nobody will ever talk about that one, but I think that’s as good a run as we’ve had.”
Belichick liked it because Blount was hit hard behind the line scrimmage, but fought harder to even get close to the first-down marker. He didn’t get the spot. Certainly not for a lack of effort.
Blount has shown plenty of that since coming over April 27 in a trade with Tampa Bay (the Patriots sent the Buccaneers running back Jeff Demps, who has yet to play). He’s establishing himself in this offense, especially recently: Blount has been given a team-high 23 combined carries in the last two games, and rushed for a team-high 129 yards.
He will get an even bigger role on Sunday when the Patriots meet the Bengals in Cincinnati because Stevan Ridley is out with a knee injury.
“Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do it,” Blount said. “No matter if it’s in the third quarter or the fourth quarter, if they need me to close the game, I’m going to do that, and if they need me to start the game, I’m going to do that.”
He’s been used more in the second half the past two games. Against Atlanta, five of Blount’s nine carries and 51 of his 64 yards came after halftime. The week before, facing his former team, 11 of his 14 rushes and 55 of his 65 yards were in the second half against the Buccaneers.
When healthy, the Patriots have four running backs they can turn to: Blount, Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden. That quartet has combined for 498 yards through four games, getting 4.8 yards per carry.
Blount is the biggest back of the four, at 250 pounds. But don’t assume that size means he’s not fast. His speed, said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, will surprise you.
“We knew when we got him that he was a guy who had been productive before, and he runs hard, has deceptive speed that we’ve seen a few times already this season, I think once in the preseason in Philadelphia and again the other night in Atlanta,” McDaniels said. “He’s got good quickness.”
“It’s obvious I’m not a 4.3 guy. The speed that I do have I use to get the job done,” Blount said. “I don’t know if people underrate it or not, but if they do, that’s a good thing, because it’s another thing I can take advantage of.”
Blount was a 1,000-yard rusher during his rookie season with Tampa Bay, but was deemed expendable when the Bucs drafted Doug Martin in 2012, when Blount’s numbers dropped to 41 carries and 151 yards. He’s eclipsed the yardage total already this season, and should top the carry number soon, perhaps this week.
Blount seems happy here, running the ball well and even returning kickoffs. He’s taken four of those out, for a 21-yard average. Not that he would know.
“I don’t really look at the numbers or whatever,” Blount said. “All I know is I haven’t taken one to the house.”
He saved that for early in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, busting through a huge hole and outrunning the defense to the end zone. It gave the Patriots some breathing room, which they ended up needing when the Falcons scored 10 points late.
Belichick said the Patriots have believed in Blount since trading for him — “the confidence in him has been since Day 1” — but it’s obvious their trust in the big back is growing by the week.
Blount sees that, based solely on his playing time.
“If you get to play, he trusts you. If you’re not playing, then it’s either something you’re doing, or they don’t trust you,” Blount said. “I’m playing, so I feel like he trusts me.
“It’s proving to be a pretty good fit for me. They use all their backs, and we all have different features, so it’s a good thing that I came here.”