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Waiting game; Blount, Patriots have eye on wild-card playoffs.

Byline: Rich Garven

FOXBORO -- From a scouting standpoint, coaches and players don't gain much from watching football games on TV. Coach Bill Belichick put the amount of help it can provide in terms of gathering meaningful intel at "less than one percent.''

But that's not going to keep running back LeGarrette Blount from joining the nationwide viewing party Saturday when the NFL playoffs get underway, the Patriots having the weekend off by virtue of the first-round bye they received as the top seed in the AFC.

"I just like the game,'' Blount said. "I'm going to watch college, too.''

Blount was all in on the University of Oregon. His alma mater met Florida State in a national semifinal Thursday.

Blount downplayed any extra rooting interest he might have in the wild-card game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers, who released him 24 hours after he expressed his displeasure with a lack of playing time by leaving the field before the conclusion of a win over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 17.

"I'm going to watch them the same as I watch everybody else,'' he claimed.

The Patriots claimed Blount off waivers two days after he was cut, bringing back the big back who performed so well for them on and, just as importantly, off the field last season. He was glad to be back and the feeling was mutual.

"They definitely made me feel good,'' Blount said of his new-old teammates. "It was like I never left. "Everybody greeted me with open arms -- the running backs, Tom (Brady), the coaches. Everybody was excited to have me back and I was excited to be back.''

Blount has run into trouble just about everywhere he's played -- Oregon, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh -- with the exception of New England, where he has always been a perfect Patriot performer. Witness this statement from the ex-Pittsburgh pouter when asked what he wants to see out of the running game in the postseason.

"I don't even care as long as we win,'' Blount said. "That's the plan. If it's running the ball or if it's throwing the ball, as long as we win I'm good with it.''

Blount has been pretty good since rejoining the Patriots, who wanted to re-sign him in the offseason, only to be outbid by the Steelers. The 6-foot, 250-pound power back rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards on his 60 carries in five games.

That Blount got up to speed so quickly with regard to the offensive scheme was a testament to his study habits and work ethic. The process is ongoing with the Patriots believing the best is yet to come.

"He spent the offseason and most of the better part of the regular season with a different team,'' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noted. "So I think each week has just been another opportunity for him to get back into our terminology, get back into our system, get back into some of the things that we do that he hadn't been doing for a while, and I think (Sunday) was a good step forward for him. I'm excited for what we'll do going forward.''

While most of the key offensive players were on the sideline in the second half of the Patriots' 17-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale, Blount was still getting some work in. He ended up with 10 carries, getting five in each half with one going for 34 yards in which he bulled his way into the open before bolting down the right sideline.

That was the longest play by the Patriots in the game and led Blount to flip the ball behind his back to an official before pumping his arms in celebration.

"Just as a player, plays like that just get you hyped,'' Blount said, breaking into a smile when reminded about the explosive dash and the ensuing display of exuberance.

"No matter what the game means or who it's against just plays like that, stuff like that, you can ride plays like that and stuff like that throughout the whole game.''

The Patriots rode Blount to a 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round last January. He set a franchise playoff record with 166 rushing yards and ran for four touchdowns, one shy of the NFL record.

That came two weeks after Blount set a franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards in a season-ending win over the Bills.

How this postseason plays out remains to be seen, but the Patriots spread the carries in the second half of the season among Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, and Blount, who sat out Week 16 with a shoulder injury he thrice proclaimed to be "good.''

That's because each brings a different dynamic to an offense that specifically game plans for each opponent.

"Like we've said before, we've got a lot of guys we feel comfortable with handing the ball to or throwing it to that have helped us win,'' McDaniels said. "All those guys that we've handed the ball to have done good things for us this season and have really been productive at different times when they've had their chances. And there are a lot of things that go into when they're in the game, what matchups we're trying to get, how we feel about a certain personnel grouping against the defense we're facing.

"Those guys do a great job of preparing each week. I feel like they're really ready to go. They know that their role could expand during the game if we're having more success, and give them a lot of credit for preparing as hard as they do. They're all ready to perform when their number is called and they've done a good job.''

That's even obvious if you're watching the game on TV.

Contact Rich Garven

at rgarven@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Garven, Rich
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 2, 2015
Words:979
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