FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — When the season started, the Patriots' top pick in last year's draft barely got on the field on defense, playing just six snaps when the opponent had the ball in the first two games.
That didn't mean Jamie Collins wasn't making progress. Coach Bill Belichick liked what he saw from the linebacker in practice and on special teams.
On Saturday, fans got to witness Collins' development. Appearing in his first postseason game, he played a key role in controlling Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, playing all 66 defensive snaps in a 43-22 win.
Collins got his first NFL sack and interception, led New England with three quarterback hurries and two tackles for a loss, and was second with six tackles.
Not to the coach who drafted him out of Southern Mississippi with the 13th choice in the second round. The Patriots had traded their first-round pick.
"Jamie's been playing well for us all year," Belichick said. "His role in the kicking game has been solid and he's played more and more for us defensively."
Adept in pass coverage as well as in stopping the run, Collins is likely to be on the field plenty when the Patriots (13-4) visit the Denver Broncos (14-3) in the AFC championship game Sunday.
He might never have gotten his chance if outside linebacker Jerod Mayo had stayed healthy.
Collins played just 52 defensive snaps in the Patriots' first six games. But Mayo tore a chest muscle in a 30-27 win over New Orleans and Collins started nine of the other 11 games. In his last five games, he's played 67 percent of the defensive snaps.
After inside linebacker Brandon Spikes went on injured reserve before the AFC divisional-round game against the Colts, Collins was in for every defensive play in the most important game the Patriots have played this season.