FOXBORO – Over the final 10 games of the 2015 season (including playoffs), the Patriots ran for 728 yards on 22 carries, an average of 3.26 yards per carry.
Missing for all or part of that period were LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. The offensive line was beset by injuries and the performance of the group was, in a word, forgettable.
Monday night, against the best run defense in the NFL, the Patriots put it on their offensive line and – while it wasn’t an overwhelming performance statistically – it worked. The Patriots ran for 95 yards on 26 carries. Blount had 72 of them on 18 carries and he scored his 14th touchdown of the year on a bulldozing, one-yard run.
PATRIOTS 30, RAVENS 23
- Edelman on Cyrus Jones: 'I've been in that doghouse . . . it's gonna suck'
- Hogan on clinching touchdown: 'Me and Tom are on the same page'
- Bennett bounces back: I'm like a phoenix... I rise from the ashes'
- Curran's Patriots-Ravens preview review
- McClellin uses cue from Ravens, perfect timing to block field goal
- Best and worst: Patriots 30, Ravens 23
- Troy Brown jokes about returning to run back punts
- Phil Perry's First Impressions of the victory
- Game notes
The game ended with the Patriots handing off to Blount on fourth-and-one from the Ravens 25 with 12 seconds left. Blount stomped through for a gain of four, and both Tom Brady and the entire Patriots’ sideline exploded at the final knife twist having been applied to the Ravens defense.
“It was great to finish the game with the ball in our hands,” said Brady. “We always love doing that.”
The point of the spear is and will continue to be Brady. But the effectiveness of their running game this season will at least keep him from having to throw 50 times while defenses try to reconfigure his vertebrae.
“You can’t just give up on the run,” said Brady. “We’ve got a great back and we’ve got a lot of great backs, so it’s just trying to find space for those guys to run and making sure we don’t come out one-dimensional.”
The threat of the run and the use of play action helped on some key plays. They big throw down the seam to Martellus Bennett. The touchdown to Chris Hogan. Both came off play action and the heartbeat’s hesitation the run-fake caused led to the end results.
“Our offensive line has really taken it to heart to want to go out and end the game on our terms so those guys, they’ve been working their friggin’ butts off,” said Julian Edelman. “It’s awesome to see. Everyone was saying this is a young group, but we have a 1,000-yard back, all our backs are good, and it comes from that front. Anytime more guys are getting the ball, it makes it easier for me.”
The Patriots ran for 1,404 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Through 13 games this season, they’ve rolled up 1,502 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 4.0 yards per carry.
The final play, Blount said, meant a lot.
“Important to me, important to [the offensive line],” he said. “It was a ‘gotta have it’ play in situational football and if we don’t get that we give them the ball back. As a running back, you want it every time in that situation and the offensive line is going to want you to have it. We just have to make sure we do everything we can to make sure we win the games.”
Solder, the old man of this offensive line, let a grin spread across his face when asked about the final play.
“Oh man, that was awesome,” he said. “Had all the confidence in the world in LeGarrette and all the guys that came in blocking that play. That’s exactly what you want to do as an offensive line. Running the ball, ending the game on our terms when you gotta do it. The fact that we’ve done it in a few games gives us more confidence and I think that’s something we’re gonna build off as we go forward.”