Laurence Maroney returned to action for New England Patriots for Sunday's win over the Dolphins in Miami. He wasn't really needed as the passing attack paced the way to the 49-28 blowout, but after missing three games with a groin issue -- the fourth injury on record in the 2006 first-round pick's short career -- it was still a positive sight for Pats fans.
Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Co. had more than enough in the tank to send the Dolphins packing, but moving forward it was important for the offense to get Maroney (six carries for 31 yards in Miami) back on the field, a place he hopes to stay for good. Offseason shoulder surgery forced him to miss just about all of training camp and then after just a couple weeks of early season action he was sidelined again with the groin issue. Needless to say, as much as fans have concerns about the lead back's durability, No. 39 is looking to remain healthy to prove things to himself.
"First of all, coming off one injury as it is and then coming into another one, it definitely is frustrating," Maroney said. "It's like, 'I just can't get rid of these things.' My whole career I never had injuries until I got to the (NFL). I missed two games in college due to an ankle sprain. But those were the only games I missed in my football career. Then I come up here and it's like I just can't get rid of these things.
"It's one of those things that you try to work hard not to be labeled as injury-prone and you try to work so hard not to be injured. But in this game of football, I'm surprised people don't get injured every play. That's just a surprising stat to me, that the way we play and how hard we work and how physical this game is people should get hurt more often. But it's one of those things that you don't want to have."
Questions about Maroney's durability became even more critical when veteran teammate Sammy Morris went down with a chest injury two weeks ago in Dallas. Various published reports have indicated that Morris, the team's leader in rushing through his six games with 85 carries for 384 yards, could miss more than a month with the injury that found his left arm in a sling following the win over the Cowboys. With Corey Dillon having been released last spring, Morris was the only other real every-down option on the running back depth chart. He stepped up in Maroney's absence, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in the first two games after the sophomore starter was sidelined.
While it seemed that the idea heading into the season -- one that played out through the first two weeks -- was to have Maroney and Morris split the rushing load, for the foreseeable future that won't be the case. As his teammates did while he was absent, Maroney will be counted on to produce even more upon his return.
But Morris' absence didn't put any extra pressure on Maroney -- who did not play as a game-time decision after an extended warm-up period a week earlier Oct. 14 in Dallas -- to get on the faster track to game action. While he doesn't want to be labeled negatively due to the injuries, he has also tried to take a smart approach to his return from them.
"You still have to know your body and know your injury. Just because another a person went down, doesn't mean you have to speed your injury process up and then hurt yourself more," Maroney said. "Then two of you are out for even longer instead of you just being patient."
Another factor that has no real bearing on the recovery process is the team's record. Rolling through the early going undefeated, as the Patriots have done, or struggling to win, either way injured players want to return as soon as possible.
"It's not easier," Maroney said of watching winning action from the sideline as opposed to the alternative. "Even if we are winning, losing, it's not easier. Because you want to play and you want to contribute in any way possible. So it's not easy sitting out."
"Anybody that says they love the game of football would be anxious whether they have to sit out one week, two weeks, three days," Maroney said. "You are always going to be anxious because you love playing the game of football. It hurts to be on the sideline. You miss it just watching it. But it just gives you more motivation to come back."
Now that he is back Maroney needs to prove to everyone, including himself, that he can stay on the field and avoid injury.