New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib was more familiar with LeGarrette Blount than any of his coaches or front office staff.
Blount joined Talib in Tampa Bay when he was claimed off waivers in 2010 after Tennessee released the running back. Both men had bad reputations due to previous poor decisions. Each was attempting to put their past behind them with the Bucs.
More importantly, Talib knew Blount could play. Blount rushed for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie in 2010, leading Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record as a rookie. Tampa Bay nearly made the playoffs under former coach Raheem Morris. Both men were leaders on offense and defense, respectively.
Talib was traded to New England in 2012, and the cornerback tried convincing coach Bill Belichick to acquire Blount. New England eventually gave up a seventh-round pick and running back Jeff Demps prior to this season for Blount, which seemed like an inconsequential trade back in April.
As New England prepares to play against Denver in the AFC championship game on Sunday, Belichick is glad he took Talib’s advice.
“One of the things that was very influential to me was Aqib’s evaluation of LeGarrette as a person, as a teammate, as a competitive football player and his skill set,” Belichick said. “When you have a guy who is with another player day after day, year after year, competing against him on the field and he gives you an honest evaluation and you trust that player and his evaluation, who knows better than him?
“Even what you see on film it’s nice and it’s what you have to work with and it’s valuable but it’s not nearly as valuable as somebody who is in the day-to-day competitive situation with another person. I think that was something that I didn’t really have a lot of, didn’t really have a good way to measure or find out, but Aqib cleared that up for me in a very positive way. That’s part of it too.”
Blount is one of the main reasons why New England is one win away from a Super Bowl appearance.
After starting running back Stevan Ridley fumbled in three consecutive weeks, Belichick turned to Blount. After three mediocre starts, Blount had 24 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo in Week 17.
Then Blount exploded in the playoffs.
New England defeated Indianapolis, 43-22, in its previous playoff game, but quarterback Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown pass. Instead, Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first player in NFL playoff history to rush for at least 150 yards and four touchdowns in a game.
In New England’s past two games, Blount has rushed for 355 yards and six touchdowns.
"I could do a lot of improvement,” Blount said. “We've watched the film, I've seen a couple holes that I could have hit, seen a couple cuts I could have made. I'm just going to try to go out there and look at what they're going to give me and hopefully exploit some of their (Denver’s) weaknesses."
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey is aware of New England’s ability to pound the rock with Blount.
“That’s what it’s about in the playoffs—just running the ball and playing solid defense,” Bailey said. “Whichever team can stop the run and whichever team can run the ball will win the game. That’s why we were successful (against San Diego). We watched New England (on film). We just have to be in our gaps and play physical and not allow them to play up tempo and not be ready—we have to get up to the line and go and just do our job and tackle.”
Talib was a Pro Bowl selection this season, while Blount has become a standout in New England. He is currently on the cover of Sports Illustrated after his recent playoff performance. And yes, Tampa Bay recently fired coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik, the two people instrumental in Talib and Blount’s departures.
Neither men seemingly knew enough about Talib and Blount.
Fortunately, for Belichick, Talib knew a lot about Blount.
“LeGarrette’s been give us good football all year long. He really has,” Belichick said. “Certainly, he’s had some outstanding games recently. He’s been a solid player for us all the way, even back to the Atlanta game. He had a big game for us on the road (nine carries for 64 yards and one touchdown). He gave us an explosive play we really needed to win. Everybody has a lot of confidence in him.
"He’s done a good job in the passing game. He’s caught a couple of check-downs, screen passes, stuff like that. Obviously, the kickoff returns have been big for us. It was big for us in the Buffalo game. He’s run the ball well. He has a great skill set, good vision, good size, good quickness, good speed. He’s a hard guy to tackle. I think he’s been a solid player for us all year long.”
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