"Son, this world is rough; And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough; And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along. So I give ya that name and I said goodbye; I knew you'd have to get tough or die." – Johnny Cash in “A Boy Named Sue”


By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Boy Named Kerry (@footballfacts)

The New England Patriots entered the 2013 season with two choices. They were the same two choices that faced the surly and quick-fisted misnamed protagonist in the classic Johnny Cash tune.

The Patriots could get tough … or die.

In New England’s case, it would have been death on a cross of 100 excuses: Wes Welker was gone. Rob Gronkowski was injured. Aaron Hernandez was behind bars.

The Patriots, in fact, were stripped of 88 percent of their receiving production from 2012, a season in which they scored a league-best 557 points and hosted the AFC title game.

Julian Edelman was New England's only returning wide receiver from 2012, and he caught only 21 passes last season.

He caught 105 passes this year.

Edelman is one example of many: given their two options, the Patriots chose to get tough and thrive.

That surly, tattooed, street-fighting team was on display Saturday night in the divisional playoffs, as the Patriots gashed the Colts in historic fashion during a 43-22 rout.

The Patriots ran the ball 46 times for 234 yards and 6 TDs, powered largely by 245-pound bowling ball running back LeGarrette Blount (24 carries, 166 yards, 6.9 YPA, 4 TDs).

You haven’t seen many displays of postseason power fotball like that in your lifetime. Here’s the short list.

Teams with 6+ Rush TDs in postseason

Bears 73, Redskins 0 – 1940 NFL title game (53, 381, 7.2 YPA, 7 TD)

49ers 44, Cowboys 31993 divisional playoffs (40, 178, 4.5 YPA, 6 TD)

Patriots 43, Colts 22 – 2013 divisional playoffs (46, 234, 5.1 YPA, 6 TD)

That's it. Only twice since 1940, a space of 73 seasons, has a team ripped off six rushing TDs in a postseason game.


Blount Trauma: Ironic Face of the Get Tough Or Die Patriots

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean; My fists got hard and my wits got keen”

Blount has risen late in the season as the face of the new-look Get Tough or Die Patriots.

His rise is more than ironic. It was even foreshadowed.

The running back before Saturday remained best known for an ugly on-field incident in 2009, during his days with the University of Oregon. The Ducks had just lost 19-8 to Boise State, when Blount punched out Broncos defender Byron Hout on national TV. (See the video here.)

The irate Blount also went after his own teammates and scuffled with Boise State fans, while being escorted by police into the locker room.

The incident has clouded his career, even defined it up until Saturday night.

Blount, a physical phenom, wasn’t even drafted in 2010. He signed with the Titans in 2010, was waived before playing a game and then spent three non-descript seasons with the Buccaneers.

Bill Belichick, like Sue's dad, knew his 2013 team would have grow up quick and grow up mean. So he picked up one of the biggest hammers you've ever seen.

The Patriots traded for Blount in 2013, picking him up for a seventh-round draft pick and back-up RB Jeff Demps, who has never carried the ball in two NFL seasons.

Blount has emerged as the leading hammer in the Get Tough or Die Patriots offense.

Over the last three games, in a John Riggins-esque late-season surge, Blount has carried the ball 64 times for 431 yards, 6.7 YPA and 8 TD.


The 2013 Mid-Season Moment of Truth

“Ya ought to thank me, before I die, For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye”

The Patriots are now displaying physical toughness honed over the course of the season. They forged their mental toughness back in Week 12, on a Sunday night in November, just four days before Thanksgiving.

That moment of truth came against the very same Denver Broncos the Patriots will face Sunday in the AFC title game.

You know the story: the 7-3 Patriots trailed the mighty 9-1 Broncos 24-0 at halftime – at home in Foxboro no less.

It was the moment for most teams to pack up and call it a season. The Patriots instead emerged from the locker room with the most awesome display of offense any team has produced all year long.

The Patriots ripped off 31 straight points in the space of just 34 offensive snaps and 13 minutes, 38 seconds of possession.

In fact, just 16:39 of game time had passed before the Patriots turned a 24-0 deficit into a 28-24 lead. Those first 17 minutes of the second half stand as New England's 2013 Moment of Truth. Those 17 minutes will be seen as the turning point of the season if the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots held on to win, 34-31 in overtime, but only after choosing to Get Tough when they had every chance to Die.

Here’s a look at New England’s first five possessions of the second half of the Denver game.

New England's First 5 Second Half Possessions (Week 12 vs. Denver)

DownTo GoLOSPlayBall CarrierYards  
1st10NE 20PassThompkins9  
2nd1NE 29RunBolden4  
1st10NE 33PassThompkins10  
1st10NE 43PassThompkins6  
2nd4NE 49PassGronkowski33  
1st10Den 18PassVereen8  
2nd2Den 10PassEdelman5  
1st5Den 5PassEdelman5TDDrive: 3:34
1st10Den 32PassVereen11  
1st10Den 21Passinc   
2nd10Den 21RunBolden7  
3rd3Den 14PassGronkowski13  
1st1Den 1RunVereen0  
2nd1Den 1RunBolden1TDDrive: 2:34
1st 10NE 35PassThompkins14  
1st 10NE 49Pass Edelman43  
1st8Den 8Passinc   
2nd 8Den 8RunVereen2  
3rd6Den 6PassGronkowski6TDDrive: 1:38
1st10Den 30RunBolden1  
2nd9Den 29PassGronkowski15  
1st10Den 14PassEdelman14TDDrive: 1:11
1st10Den 47RunVereen6  
2nd4Den 41PassGronkowski7  
1st10Den 34Passinc   
2nd10Den 34PassAmendola4  
3rd6Den 30PassVereen7  
1st10Den 23RunBolden1NE Pen -10 
1st19Den 32no playDenver Penalty 5  
1st 10Den 27runBolden2  
2nd8Den 25PassThompkins11  
1st 10Den 14RunBolden1  
2nd9Den 13Passinc   
3rd9Den 13Passiinc   
4th9Den 13FGGostkowski31 Drive: 4:41


The Moment of Truth was not powered by Blount and the ground game. Instead, it was powered by Old Warhorse Tom Brady, the greatest winner in NFL history.

Brady produced only average numbers this season (25 TD, 11 INT, 87.3 rating).

But with the season perhaps hanging in the balance, and his team facing its toughest mental test, against his greatest rival, and against the best team in football, Brady was once again the best quarterback in the game. 

(The Patriots have actually outscored the record-setting Broncos, 308-287, since Week 9).

He completed of 18 of 23 passes for 221 yards, 9.6 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 146.3 passer rating in the space of five straight scoring drives.

On the strength of that effort, New England had turned a 24-0 halftime deficit into a 31-24 fourth-quarter lead.

The Patriots scored at a dizzying pace out of the second-half gate:

  • The first four drives (28 points) took 16:39 of game time; 8:57 of possession time
  • The five straight scoring drives (31 points) took 20:19 of game time; 13:38 of possession time

The Get Tough or Die Patriots proved their mental fortitude in that Week 12 win over the Broncos. They proved their physical toughness in the divisisional round win over the Colts.

They enter the AFC title game sizable underdogs against the Broncos. But it doesn't sound like a team you want to roll around with in the mud and the blood and the beer of an ugly street fight.

As Johnny Cash put it: "I tell ya, I've fought tougher men; But I really can't remember when."