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Patriots' LeGarrette Blount rushes into stardom

LeGarrette Blount of the New England Patriots celebrates

LeGarrette Blount of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammate James Develin in the end zone after scoring a two-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium. (Jan. 11, 2014) Photo Credit: Getty Images

LeGarrette Blount may seem like an overnight success story to you, but Aqib Talib knows better.

Talib was well aware of Blount's talent, even when the running back's career stalled in Tampa Bay after the hiring of coach Greg Schiano in 2012. During their time together with the Bucs, Talib knew Blount was special.

And now, so does the rest of the NFL.

"I've seen him in my first year in Tampa have 1,000 yards, and the next year have close to 1,000 yards, and then go to no carries when Schiano got there,'' the Patriots cornerback said, referring to the dramatic drop in Blount's rushing yardage with the Bucs between 2010 (1,007) and 2012 (151). "So I've seen his success, man. I've seen what he can do, so it doesn't surprise me.''

Talib and Blount spent almost three full seasons together with Tampa Bay before each found his way, separately, to Foxborough. And now, after reigniting their careers in New England, both are one win away from the Super Bowl.

But while all eyes will be trained on quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning during Sunday's AFC Championship Game, Blount may wind up being the key to a Patriots victory.

The praise for the running back has been sudden, sparked by his record-breaking performance in last week's divisional playoff win over the Colts. And the Broncos are determined not to surrender another 73-yard run to Blount.

The Patriots are winning the battles in the trenches, said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio -- and Blount's a big reason why.

"[He's a] big, physical player [and a] downhill runner,'' Del Rio said. "That's the big thing; he's a powerful back and they're doing a great job opening holes and he's doing a great job hitting them.''

Blount now is a household name in Foxborough. He was featured on this week's issue of Sports Illustrated and his No. 29 jersey is flying off the shelves.

"Now you can't get your hands on them,'' he said, referring to fans in search of his jersey. "To all them, I hope y'all can find them, because I can't.''

Guard Logan Mankins said he always knew Blount was quick, but his shiftiness is a thing of beauty.

"He does a great job of having patience and finding the hole, first of all,'' Mankins said. "He doesn't overrun it. He doesn't cut it too soon. He gives you time to get your block made and he hits it going forward. The most impressive thing is the way he's just dragging people. No one is just arm-tackling. He is not going down with just one guy. He is always gaining yards, even after contact, which is very impressive. It is great to have a guy doing that.''

But as nice as the added attention has been, Blount said he's focused on the ultimate goal -- helping the Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl title in the Bill Belichick Era.

His newfound star status? "That doesn't really matter to me,'' he said. "It's just one task at hand, and I'm sure you guys know what that is. It starts here today, and hopefully it continues after Sunday's game.''

New York Sports