FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Belichick. Brady. And now Blount.
You've known the first two for more than a decade, possibly the best in the business at what they do. Now you know the third, the rejuvenated running back who will carry the ball and much of the New England Patriots' hopes on his broad shoulders.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the winningest coach-quarterback duo in NFL history, are in the AFC championship game for the eighth time in their 14 seasons together.
They'll need more to beat the Denver Broncos on Sunday and they should get plenty from LeGarrette Blount, the bulldozer with breakaway speed who powers the Patriots' charge toward their second Super Bowl in three years.
"The way he's running, the way we've blocked offensively, it's never a problem for me to check to a run because they're executing it so well," Brady said.
The 250-pound Blount struggled the last time he faced the Broncos, a game the Patriots won 34-31 in overtime Nov. 24. He carried the ball three times and lost it twice. The first fumble was reversed on replay. So Brady gave him the ball on the next play, he fumbled again and no replay was needed to confirm Denver's recovery.
But now Blount is barreling for long touchdowns: 73, 36 and 35 yards in the past two games. In his last three games, he gained 431 yards on 64 carries for eight touchdowns with just one fumble that was recovered by the Patriots.
And they won those by 34, 14 and 21 points.
"We'll just have to gang tackle," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton side. "He's getting to the second level untouched because their (offensive) line is doing a good job of getting a hat on a hat and controlling their one guy."
It will be tougher to stop Blount with Chris Harris, Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe all sidelined.
Left guard Logan Mankins, a six-time Pro Bowler with a mean streak, sets the tone for the Patriots' veteran offensive line that has been intact nearly all season.
Sure, the Broncos allowed only 65 yards rushing last Sunday in their 24-17 divisional-round win over San Diego. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers handed the ball off just four times after falling behind 14-0 at halftime and nearly completed an improbable comeback.
That's nothing compared with the 24-0 hole the Patriots found themselves in at intermission two months ago against Denver. But they climbed out of that. They also beat Miami after trailing by 14 at halftime and Cleveland after trailing by 12 in the final two minutes.