The pulling guard already had an idea of where he would end up — and it could be in the A gap (between the center and guard), B gap (guard and tackle), or C gap (outside the tackle) — before the play.
“For me, it’s more of looking around, locating who I have to get, and when you pull — you have to keep your eye on him and see where your entry point is to get there,” Thomas said.
“It makes it a little bit more tough when you add those elements into it. Especially when you know it’s a drive like that and they’re not going to sit there in the same spot that they are. They’re going to be slanting, running twists.
“The linebackers might run through, [you] might have to pick up somebody else. It makes it a lot more difficult than if it was in the first quarter and it was just second and 4. That’s the key element of making it a little bit more difficult.”
The running back reads the play from inside out, looking first to see if there’s an opening in the A gap. If there’s nothing, he follows the pulling guard. There are no preconceived notions about where the play might go.
“You just have to run it and see how it unfolds,” Ridley said. “That’s the thing: If you predetermine it’s going to be inside or outside, that’s when you’re going to miss it.
“You do have a puller in front of you, and for that we just have to read it out. It might be inside, it might be outside, but you never really know where it’s going to hit exactly.”
The Patriots ran the power play six times on the final drive after just two attempts in the previous three quarters. They picked up 31 yards, including 9 from Ridley behind McDonald on second and 2, and 8 from Vereen behind McDonald on second and 10.
The power powered the Patriots to ice the game in a crucial situation.
“If one person doesn’t do their job, then it messes it up,” Ridley said.
“You have people pulling, people blocking down, the design of the play, you kind of have to run it to perfection if you want to have success with it. But it starts up front. You just have to find it. Some days it’s inside in the A gap, sometimes it’s all the way out. If you follow your pullers and the read, you’re going to be on track.”
The Patriots were certainly that on the final drive.
“The running game was huge,” Brady said. “I thought the running backs ran really hard, protected the ball, and got some great blocking up front. It’s what we needed at that time. It’s a very good run defense, a good group of linebackers, they’re physical and they really made it tough on us today.”
On this day, the Patriots were the tougher group when it mattered. That bodes well as the games become more important.