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BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL

LeGarrette Blount, offensive line paved the way for Patriots

FOXBOROUGH — There was plenty of celebrating and jubilation in the Patriots’ locker room following their 45-7 dismantling of the Colts in the AFC Championship game, but the biggest smiles in the room had to belong to LeGarrette Blount and the five offensive linemen.

They were the driving forces behind Sunday’s blowout victory, and deserve to bask in the limelight a little bit. It hasn’t been an easy season for any of them.

“I’m grateful to be in this situation,” Blount said after rushing for 148 yards and three touchdowns. “It’s an amazing feeling. I haven’t had a feeling like this since I’ve been in the league. It’s unreal.”

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Blount began the season in Pittsburgh after signing there as a free agent, but fell behind Le’Veon Bell on the depth chart, didn’t get much work, and was cut by the Steelers in November after leaving the sideline early during a loss in which he didn’t get a carry.

The Patriots quickly scooped up Blount off the waiver wire for a minimum contract, and now he finds himself headed to his first Super Bowl.

“I don’t know why things don’t work out for some players and some teams, but LeGarrette fits here,” center Ryan Wendell said. “We love him. He’s a great guy on the field and off the field; I can’t speak to whatever that situation was down there, but I’m happy we got him.”

And plenty of Patriots were happy for the offensive line, too. This was a unit that got hammered on “SportsCenter” and talk radio from coast to coast after the Monday night debacle against Kansas City in September. The surprising trade of Logan Mankins right before the season threw the unit into a state of flux, and the five guys up front played a big role in the team’s 2-2 start.

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“You don’t want to judge your team after three or four games,” quarterback Tom Brady said, “and it’s important not to ride the roller coaster.”

Now we see why. The offensive line has come up big in the playoffs, giving Brady plenty of time to throw and allowing only two sacks in the big comeback win over Baltimore last week, and paving the way for Blount and Brady on Sunday night.

So it was no surprise to see the postgame locker room turn into a veritable lovefest between Blount and the linemen.

“They’re the best O-line I’ve played behind, hands down,” said Blount, a five-year veteran who has also played with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. “The best in the league, for sure. I probably should’ve had more yards than I did. I probably missed a couple holes.”

And the offensive linemen returned serve.

“I can’t say enough [about Blount]. Whatever the best things possible that I can say, print that,” Wendell said. “LeGarrette never ceases to amaze me, he was running so hard tonight. It’s inspiring to watch. He’ll give us a lot of credit, but there’s plenty of times where we didn’t block the play just right, and LeGarrette gets yards on his own.”

The Patriots have run all over the Colts in recent history, and they steamrolled the Colts again. Last year in the playoffs, they rushed for 234 yards against the Colts while Blount rushed for four touchdowns.

In November, they rushed for 246 yards as Jonas Gray rushed for four touchdowns. And Sunday night, even though everyone in the building knew the Patriots would try to ground-and-pound the Colts in the nasty rain, the Patriots rushed for 177 yards while Blount added three more scores.

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New England’s rushing total in those three games: 657 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Colts’ defense at least tried something different this time. In November, when the Patriots used Cameron Fleming as a sixth offensive lineman on 35 plays, Indianapolis didn’t adjust its personnel at all. On Sunday, whenever Fleming came into the game (on about 20 snaps), the Colts sent safety LaRon Landry onto the field and played him down in the box to stop the run.

“The plan going in wasn’t to run a lot,” one Patriots player said. “We just wanted to wait it out and see what they did at first.”

The Colts also had their middle linebacker crash down on plays in which the Patriots used a pulling guard.

“I think they got that from the Green Bay tape, because that’s how they played us,” the player said.

Obviously, neither tactic worked.

Blount rushed 16 times for 68 yards and a touchdown in the first half, then sealed the win with 14 carries for 80 yards and two more touchdowns in the second half. Blount averaged a healthy 4.9 yards on a team-playoff-record 30 carries, and nine attempts went for first downs, plus two more that resulted in touchdowns.

“He just runs so aggressively,” Wendell said. “It’s almost like he enjoys contact, and he always gets yards, even when there’s none there.”

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Blount has had a spotty tenure in the NFL, looking great as a rookie with the Bucs in 2010 and again with the Patriots last year, but falling out of favor in both Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and getting shipped out of both places.

But Blount just seems to click with the veteran-laden, no-excuses culture of the Patriots.

“We love LG,” fellow running back Shane Vereen said. “I thought he ran the ball strong, tough. I wouldn’t want to tackle him, either.

“He’s a great player, a great teammate, he’s accepted around here and everybody loves him.”


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin