When Jimmy Garoppolo left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, the Patriots did what they could to make fill-in rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett comfortable. That meant leaning on the running game, which they did to the tune of 37 carries for 162 yards, a 4.4 yards-per-carry average.
Running back LeGarrette Blount (29 carries, 123 yards) was called upon more than James White (4 carries, 19 yards), DJ Foster (1 carry, 7 yards) and Brandon Bolden (zero carries) combined, and flashed impressive athleticism to go along with his imposing 6-foot, 250-pound frame. He barreled over a defender as he crossed the goal line on his nine-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and he hurdled Dolphins corner Byron Maxwell for a 26-yard gain on New England's first offensive play of the fourth quarter.
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The hurdle was Blount's second in as many weeks, both of which have caught at least one teammate a bit off-guard.
"I don't know how he keeps doing that," tight end Martellus Bennett said Sunday. "I said, 'You got another one today!' It's pretty amazing. He's like standing straight up. I don't know. LeGarrette doesn't look like he can do that, then all of a sudden he does it. It's like, 'You're like Bambi!' It's crazy."
Blount's day was his most productive in terms of yards since Week 9 of last season when he rushed for 129 of them on 29 carries in a win over the Redskins. He wasn't able to crack the 70-yard mark in his next five games, and he suffered a season-ending hip injury against the Texans in Week 14.
Through two weeks this season, the 29-year-old looks healthy. He has 193 yards and two touchdowns on 51 attempts, and the Patriots have leaned on him in critical situations. On Sunday, he helped the Patriots cope following Garoppolo's injury. Against the Cardinals in Week 1, he ran for a key first down on a third-and-long play to help set up Stephen Gostkowski for the game-winning field goal. He's currently fourth in the league in both attempts and yards.
What's the difference between the Blount of this season and the Blount the Patriots had at their disposal in the weeks leading up to his injury last season, coach Bill Belichick was asked in a conference call on Monday?
"Well I'd say the biggest thing that has contributed to it is he's had some space to run," Belichick explained. "There were too many plays last year where it didn't make a difference who the back was, we just couldn't get him started, couldn't get him into any kind of space, couldn't let the back gain any kind of momentum.
"I think all our backs have ability to make yards, they've all been productive, we've seen it in preseason, we've seen it through the years with some of these guys, depending on which guy you want to talk about. But we have to give them a chance. We have to give them a chance to have some kind of opportunity to operate with some space or momentum or something. No back can gain yardage when there's just no place to run."
The Patriots offensive line held its own against a powerful Dolphins front on Sunday. With left tackle Nate Solder back in the mix for the first time since injuring his biceps last season, and with Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Ted Karras and Shaq Mason operating on the interior, it was an athletic group that was able to help clear some running lanes for Blount. Fullback James Develin was also a factor leading the way for Blount.
"We’ve always had a lot of confidence in LeGarrette," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said in a conference call Monday. "He has had a lot of big games here for us and helped us win a lot of games and he doesn’t just carry the ball -- he did some things in terms of protection. He helped us on the edge with some of their good pass-rushers. He has made some plays in the passing game when we’ve given him the opportunity too.
"LG is always ready to go, practices hard, prepares hard for each week, and whatever we ask of him he embraces his role on our team. It just so happened yesterday, you know, he ended up with quite a few carries and that’s happened before. However the game goes, sometimes that determines that you do something more or less as the game moves along. I guess today [during film] I thought he did a good job with his opportunities of producing for us in some critical situations."