This was “slush-mouth” football. As was the case with Mark Henderson and his John Deere tractor in the 1982 “Snowplow Game” with the Miami Dolphins, Maroney’s turn came on Sunday.
This was “slush-mouth” football.
“Laurence had a great game from what I can see,” Patriots fullback Heath Evans said after second-year running back Laurence Maroney had carried a career-high 26 times for 104 yards in the Patriots’ 20-10 victory over the New York Jets in Sunday’s Nor’easter at Gillette Stadium. “He ran hard downhill and that’s what we ask of him.”
With the team’s pass-powered offense operating at high efficiency, this season has often been an uphill climb for New England’s first-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft.
“I’ve always been patient,” said Maroney, “and I’m always going to wait my turn.”
As was the case with Mark Henderson and his John Deere tractor in the 1982 “Snowplow Game” with the Miami Dolphins, Maroney’s turn came on Sunday.
With the pass-powered offense literally on ice (snow, wind and rain), the Patriots took a latter-day snowplow approach against the Jets.
Like Henderson before him, Maroney shifted into gear against a rushing defense that ranks 30th in the NFL – a defense that at times seemed to be daring the Pats to run the ball at them.
“He got a lot of carries,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “We ran the ball quite a bit, partially because of what the Jets were doing. Sometimes they only had a couple of defensive linemen in the game. We felt like we had some matchups there and I thought our offensive line did a good job of sorting out some of those formations where they would move people around and stunt guys in and out of the front late, dropping safeties down and pulling them out and things like that.
“I thought the o-line did a good job on that and Laurence got his hands on the ball and I thought he ran hard, ran well in short-yardage and goal-line (situations), had some good runs on the perimeter in early-down situations.”
“Hopefully, Laurence gained some confidence,” quarterback Tom Brady said in the aftermath of that win, the Patriots’ 14th straight. “I know we all have confidence in Laurence. He just hasn’t had quite the opportunity that he would like, but I know he was excited (Sunday).”
While the game itself was drastically lacking in excitement, it marked Maroney’s second 100-yard performance this year and the third of his NFL career. Only his 125-yard effort in a 38-13 romp over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 1, 2006, was more productive.
Handed the ball 13 times in the first half on Sunday, Maroney responded with 56 yards and a touchdown. Given the ball another 13 times in the second half, he responded with 48 yards.
Now consider that in eight of the Patriots’ 14 games this year, Maroney was handed the ball 13 times or less (he was inactive for three of those games with a groin injury).
“You get a feel for the game when you get carry after carry instead of one carry and you’re out, two carries and you’re taken out,” Maroney said.
To say that Maroney carried his team to victory would be overstating the case, but the weekend’s raging Nor’easter prompted the Patriots to do the heretofore unthinkable - hand the ball to their lead running back only one less time than Brady threw it.
“Sooner or later, they were going to call for the running game,” Maroney said. “I knew I had to be prepared.”
While less than spectacular, Maroney hasn’t exactly suffered through a sophomore jinx.
Maroney’s 4.2 yards-per-carry average this season is more than respectable, as good or better than 19 of the other 31 team-leading rushers around the NFL.
Barring an amazing closing kick, though, Maroney, who made 1,000-yard seasons a habit at the University of Minnesota (he, Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne and Michigan State Sedrick Irvin are the only three players in Big Ten history to exceed 1,000 yards in each of their first three seasons), won’t reach that plateau for his second straight NFL season.
Maroney heads into this Sunday’s game with 1-13 Miami at Gillette with 633 yards, 112 shy of the 745 he totaled his rookie campaign.
“When you have elements like (Sunday’s) you want to play great defense and run the ball and I thought we played great defense and we ran the ball well,” Brady said. “That’s what we’re going to need the rest of the season."