FOXBORO - Aqib Talib got a promotion from Patriots' coach Bill Belichick after Sunday's game, retroactive as it was to training camp.
Belichick had consulted with Talib, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, about his former teammate LeGarrette Blount as the Patriots entered into trade talks with the Bucs late in training camp. Talib gave the running back a glowing review, and that was underscored Sunday as Blount ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns and added 145 yards in kickoff returns to lead the Patriots to a 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
"Definitely an assist on this one has to go to our assistant pro personnel director, Talib, who I talked to before we traded for LeGarrette," Belichick said during his post-game press conference.
Talib was so glad the Patriots traded kick returner and Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps to the Bucs for Blount, he brought in his former teammate as a roommate at the start of the season. The two still live next door to each other.
"Having a day like that, a game like that and to be on the same team with me again, man, live right next door to me hey, I can't do nothing but smile. That's my dog," Talib said.
Blount broke two long touchdown runs of 36 and 35 yards, but his kick returns were the gold standard for the day. The 83-yarder late in the third quarter and the 62-yarder in the fourth produced 11 of the Patriots' 18 fourth-quarter points.
And it's not as if he was lucky to break them. Despite his 250-pound frame, Blount has a rare combination of deceptive speed and elusiveness that, on a day when a runner has an advantage because he can be proactive on wet turf and not reactive, was fully on display Sunday.
"It was a good feeling, man," he said of the two long returns. "I mean, we've been close a few times, but a few times it's been us, it's been the returners that haven't run the return to the point to where we could've broken it, and we finally got to the point where we read it perfectly, and they brought the perfect play and it broke."
Blount gave props to his fellow special-teamers for making the right blocks and creating the holes that enabled him to get into the clear.
"On the returns that I had, I didn't get touched for like the first 30 yards," he said. "So I tip my hat off to those guys, the core special teams guys. We have a Pro Bowler in (Matthew) Slater, so I tip my hat to those guys."
So he felt as well about the holes he got while running the ball. He and Stevan Ridley (12 carries, 74 yards) were separated by just one yard in the final rushing statistics for the season, Ridley with 773 and Blount with 772.
"The offensive line played amazing for both of us, me and Ridley and Shane (Vereen). The offensive line played amazing, so you can't ever give them enough credit," Blount said. "All we have to do is find the holes. They blocked tremendously. They had an amazing game. It was one of our best games by our offensive line, and they played amazing throughout the whole season, and they definitely came through for us big-time today. You can't say enough about those guys, they're tough."
The game was competed in a driving, cold rain that pooled atop the stadium's artificial surface by the third quarter.
"It was cold and it was rainy, and it was hard for a lot of guys to keep their footing," Blount said. "We just went into the game with the mindset to run the football and play physical football, and that's what we did. It's a mindset and the will of what's at stake and the urgency that we have to have to continue to be successful, and how important this first round bye was."
Talib had told Belichick that Blount, despite a few disciplinary issues in his Tampa Bay career, would be "a great teammate, a great locker room player, and you're going to see a lot of explosive plays from him," Talib said. "That's all I told him. You're going to get a lot of explosive plays and he's going to be great in this locker room and you won't have a problem out of him in this locker room."
The biggest difference and motivating factor for Blount since coming over from the Bucs was something he could sum up in one word.
"Winning," he said.