PHOENIX – Super Bowl HISS (the Roman numerals indicating a mysterious loss of air pressure) is about more than deflation.
For the sixth time in 14 years, Super Bowl week is about Bill Belichick’s not-so-evil scheme to pump helium into the careers of players who might otherwise be afterthoughts, or unemployed.
Take LeGarrette Blount.
Not many teams would have.
On Nov. 17, Blount, a little-used backup running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, walked off the field on his team, violating one of the few universal rules about athletic behavior. A day later, the Steelers cut him.
Blount cleared waivers, meaning no team was in a rush to bring him aboard, either because of his lack of production this season or his display of insubordination.
The Patriots signed Blount and gave him an average of 10 carries a game in his first six games on the roster. That included a three-carry, 1-yard performance in the Patriots’ 35-31 playoff victory over Baltimore.
Belichick is not only capable, as the old Southern saying goes, of “Taking his’n and beating your’n, and taking your’n and beating his’n,” but he’s also capable of completely remodeling his offense every week to attack a defense’s weaknesses.
So, a week after carrying three times for 1 yard against the Ravens, Blount rushed 30 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-7 victory over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game.
Against the Ravens’ run-stuffing front and vulnerable secondary, Belichick had quarterback Tom Brady throw 50 times. Against the Colts’ soft front, he had Blount carry it 30 times.
Sunday, against the Seahawks, Blount could become the Patriots’ most important player, or he could sit on the sidelines while Shane Vereen catches passes out of the backfield.
“Yeah, I don’t know what happened in Pittsburgh,” Belichick said. “You’d have to ask Pittsburgh about Pittsburgh.”
Belichick displays the earned arrogance of someone accomplished enough to never care what anybody else thinks. He wears ratty hoodies, flaunts NFL rules, makes a mockery of the injury report, sometimes offers defiantly vague or curt interviews, and takes other team’s discards and wins with them.
There are two core Patriots: Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Everyone else has to worry about their job season to season, and perhaps game to game.
“They knew that I could run the football,” Blount said. “They know that I can be effective with it. They know that I have big-play potential. They like my style of running, and I fit in perfectly with this offense. It was a perfect matchup.”
Blount offered no more insights into his behavior in Pittsburgh than did Belichick and perhaps because of him.
This is a week of contrasting styles.
The Seahawks rally around coach Pete Carroll’s incessant enthusiasm. They rely on one back, Marshawn Lynch, to wear down defenses.
The Patriots adhere to Belichick’s gruff, offer-no-information interview style. And they will use any back who fits their game plan any given week.
A handful of NFL teams, including the Vikings since they drafted Adrian Peterson, believe in featuring one running back. The rest of the NFL has gone the way of the Patriots, believing they can find running back talent on the street, and using different backs for different situations.
This season five different players led the Patriots in rushing attempts in a game. In a Week 10 dismantling of the Colts, Jonas Gray carried 37 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
After that game, the Patriots signed Blount. Gray was inactive for the next game, and has carried the ball 24 times since his big game.
Blount, a relentless runner who can pound a defense using extra defensive backs to stop the Patriots’ multiple-receiver sets, scored three touchdowns in the playoff game against the Colts, creating this bizarre statistic:
The most rushing touchdowns in Patriots postseason history? Blount with seven, followed by Brady and Curtis Martin with five.
“You try to give the players a good plan and opportunity to play, to put them in a position that they’re able to be competitive and be aggressive,” Belichick said. “Then let the players play.”
Or not. Depends on the player, and the game plan that week.