Patience pays off.
If they stay patient with the ground attack, it could carry them to the Super Bowl.
|2010 regular season||16||28.38||123.3||4.35||19|
|2011 regular season||16||27.38||110.25||4.03||18|
|2012 regular season||16||32.69||136.5||4.18||25|
|2013 regular season||16||29.38||129.06||4.39||19|
Pro Football Reference
Over the past few years, the Patriots have struggled to find consistency in the running game, both in terms of production and patience with it.
Neither of those things were an issue on Saturday night, as New England ran the ball 46 times for 234 yards and six touchdowns.
The Patriots' six rushing touchdowns were the most in team history, and their 234 rushing yards were the second most in the club's playoff history. Saturday marked the first time New England rushed for over 200 yards in a playoff game since Jan. 16, 2005—coincidentally, in a divisional-round win over the Peyton Manning-led Colts.
It was only one game, but their persistence paid off.
"You're not going to break a long run on every play," said LeGarrette Blount, whose four rushing touchdowns set a Patriots record. "You're going to get some (for) three yards...two yards...one yard...four yards, but if you keep banging at 'em, eventually, one is going to pop for 20 yards, one is going to pop for 30, 15, then you get rolling."
Blount had already rushed for three touchdowns by halftime, but the Patriots' running game still hadn't truly found its groove. At the halfway mark, New England had run the ball 25 times for 80 yards and just 3.2 yards per carry.
It's a good thing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels elected to stick with it, because it went off for 154 yards on 21 carries (7.3 YPA), thanks in no small part to a 73-yard run by Blount.
With Tom Brady at quarterback, a lot of offensive coordinators may have abandoned the run after such an unsuccessful first half.
"I wouldn't have blamed them if they would have went to Tom," said Blount. "I mean, like I said, he's the best quarterback to ever play the game. Nobody can blame them if they go to Tom. Josh knows what he wants to do, and he stuck to it, and we came out with a win."
It's probably a lot easier to stick with the run when you're going up against a Colts' run defense that's struggled mightily all year long. But it's important to establish the running game as a strength because its effect trickles over into the passing game.
Who knows if wide receiver Danny Amendola would have gotten open for a 53-yard catch off a Brady play-action fake had it not been for the running game.
The Patriots' dominance on the ground over the last month of the season, and now this week against the Colts, has opened up the discussion that maybe the tables have turned in New England. Perhaps the Patriots may be a smashmouth football team in the making.
"I think we've always strived to be more balanced," said left guard Logan Mankins. "It's just, what is the strength of your offense? At times, we're a better passing team than a running team. Right now, I don't know if we're a better running team than a passing team, but the running is working. So, why go away from something that's working?"
The importance of the running game is often magnified in the playoffs, but especially for the Patriots, and certainly this year. The AFC Championship Game could end up being played in Denver, and the Super Bowl will be played in New York. Two cold-weather climates that could call for another heavy dose of the running game.
Should the Patriots stick with the running game?
Of course, the running game may not always be there, and while their patience paid off Saturday night, that may not be the case all the time. However, the Patriots have the ultimate offensive trump card with their quarterback.
"You never know what's going to happen," said left tackle Nate Solder, "and I would never want any other guy behind me than Tom."
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.