Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
More than four years ago, LeGarrette Blount threw a punch that changed his future, hitting Boise State's Byron Hout in the jaw after the Broncos defeated Blount's Oregon Ducks.
Saturday night in a divisional playoff matchup against the Colts, the Patriots running back threw another punch, then another, then another to help New England get to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in the last 13 seasons.
Most of them were body blows to soften up Indianapolis, and then Blount hit the Colts with the haymaker, a 73-yard touchdown run to put New England up by 14 with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter.
The 250-pounder finished with 166 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries.
In between his punch four years ago and Saturday night was a long and arduous road for the 27-year-old.
Sept. 5, 2009 - Oregon suspends Blount, a senior, for the rest of the season for punching Hout. The Pac-10 would later reinstate Blount for the final three games of the season, including the Rose Bowl.
April 26, 2010 - After going undrafted, Blount agrees to a contract with the San Francisco 49ers only to change his mind and sign with the Tennessee Titans.
Sept. 5-6, 2010 - Titans waive Blount; Tampa Bay Buccaneers claim him.
Jan. 2, 2011 - Blount finishes with 1,007 yards and six touchdowns on 201 carries in just 13 games as a rookie with Tampa Bay.
April 26, 2012 - After Blount rushes for just 781 yards on 184 carries in 2011, the Bucs draft Doug Martin out of Boise State with the 31st overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Martin wins the starting job and eventually takes the goal-line gig away from Blount too.
April 27, 2013 - Bucs trade Blount to the New England Patriots for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Blount starts out fourth on the depth chart behind Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
Oct. 6, 2013 - Stevan Ridley suffered a knee injury in Week 4, allowing Blount to start Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals. However, he had just 51 yards on 12 carries and lost a fumble.
Oct. 27 to Dec. 15, 2013 - Blount splits time with Ridley and Vereen, rushing for 40-plus yards in six of seven games but no more than 49 in any of them. Ridley loses a fumble three games in a row from Nov. 3-24 and the coaching staff loses faith in him.
Dec. 22, 2013 - Shane Vereen leaves Week 16 game against the Baltimore Ravens with a groin injury; Blount goes off for 76 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Dec. 29, 2013 - Blount carries 24 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills to lock down a first-round bye for New England.
Blount is the hottest running back in the NFL, having compiled 431 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 64 carries (6.7 ypc) the last three games. He must be considered 1b to Marshawn Lynch's 1a for fantasy owners crafting a fantasy roster for Championship Sunday.
The Patriots clearly tailored their game plan Saturday to attack Indianapolis' toothless run defense, and they will probably adapt it next week against either the Denver Broncos or San Diego Chargers. Both Denver and San Diego finished in the top-12 in rushing yards allowed, and New England ran the ball on just 31 of its 84 plays in Week 12 against Denver.
San Diego actually ranked 27th with 4.7 yards per carry allowed, but because the Chargers run a ball-control offense their opponents only had 376 runs, third least in the NFL.
Even with the uncertainty surrounding New England's game plan, Blount isn't a bad option for those who cannot grab Lynch.
The Patriots have moved to a run-heavy attack the last three games and Tom Brady has averaged just 25 pass attempts and 164 passing yards with two touchdowns in that span. But New England still has been getting inside the 10- yard line at will and has shown that without Rob Gronkowski, its first and second options from that part of the field are to run the football.
The AFC Championship game is shaping up to be a heavyweight fight, and Blount has proven capable of hitting opponents hard. Fortunately, his shots are now solely confined to the game.