It was a coming-out party for rookie linebacker Jamie Collins Saturday.
With linebacker Brandon Spikes place on injured reserve prior to the divisional game against the Colts, Collins chose a great time to have his best game as a pro. He had six tackles (three solo tackles for losses), one sack, three quarterback hits, and one interception in his first career playoff game.
Collins answered the bell with an increased role on defense covering Colts tight end Coby Fleener as he tallied three pass defended, including one in the end zone and another on third down along the sideline. His sack in the third quarter was a key play stopping a Colts drive.
His pressure on Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck helped cause two Patriots interceptions and he ran his own pick back for 20 yards to set up another Patriots score.
After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichcick said Collins has been playing well all year. "His role in the kicking game has been solid and he's played more and more for us defensively … He's been very dependable and durable. He hasn't missed anything all year."
Belichick said he can play outside linebacker, he can play off the line as the nickel linebacker, he can split out covering the tight end on fade patterns, and he can blitz up the middle to make tackles.
"I think he's pretty comfortable wherever he is whether he's out in space and covering a guy 20 yards downfield or one-on-one coverage with no help or whether he's in line taking on blockers or blitzing or covering tight ends from in close," said Belichick. "He's a very versatile athlete that's smart, works hard, and he really has a great team attitude."
Collins said he's just going to be ready to do whatever he can to help the Patriots win.
"It's a postseason game, a big game. We're down a man, so you know, next man up. That's the way I look at it. Next man up," he said. "It was a big difference but we have to step up with the guys we've got, go out and play our game, and try and come out with a W."
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said he's seen Collins' potential all season.
"Jamie is an unbelievable talent and athlete," he said. "I mean, the guy can run, he can cover, he's fast and explosive, and he can get up and rush. You see a guy like that, and he's one of those guys that's got that wow factor – you see him play the cut, spin on the ground and still make the tackle. His future in the NFL is very bright, so I'm happy that he's on our defense and he's playing well now. This is the perfect time for everyone to just be flying around and making plays."
Patriots linebacker Don't'a Hightower plays alongside Collins at the inside position. Following the game, Hightower said he recognized Collins' ability from day one.
"I've seen it ever since he's gotten here and ever since OTA's, you can definitely tell how athletic the guy is. He's probably one of the most athletic guys on the team and it didn't take him long to kind of get a grasp on what was going on and for him to make plays.
Hightower said the rest of football is just catching up to what the Patriots already knew about Collins. "Everybody else might be surprised, but we see it every day and for him to come out and have the game that he did, I wasn't surprised at all."
Kevin Saleeba is the senior editor and columnist for Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinSaleeba or like him on Facebook
All hands on deck for the Patriots linebacking crew…