Ground Delivery: Maroney Rumbles Past Jags

FOXBORO - With all the pre-game hype made about the Jacksonville Jaguars vaunted running attack, it was the Patriots' runner, second-year back Laurence Maroney, who scampered up and down the field in the Patriots 31-20 victory over the Jags Saturday night.

Maroney was poised to make an impact early in the game with 52 seconds left in the first quarter. The Patriots had the ball on the Jacksonville 10 yard line when Maroney ran off the left tackle. After being hit at about the seven yard line, he continued to drive forward, carrying half the Jaguars' defense to the one yard line. Maroney would score two plays later to start the second quarter, but it was apparent, Maroney was ready to put a linking on the Jacksonville defense.

While Jacksonville struggled to stop New England's ground game, the Pats defense kept the Jaguars' two-man tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew from being productive on the field. The league's second-most productive two-man running attack during the regular season could only combine for 66 yards in the game.

As the dynamic duo of Taylor and Jones-Drew were dominated by the Patriots defensive front, Maroney rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown. Maroney also pitched in with two receptions for 40 yards out of the backfield. After the game, Maroney said "I felt very comfortable today and the offensive line and receivers did a good job blocking once again downfield. I just tried to get into a rhythm and run hard."

New England Patriots' running back Laurence Maroney, right,rushes for a touchdown over teammate Heath Evans ahead as Jacksonville Jaguars' Daryl Smith (52)fails to make the stop in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The game was poetic justice for Maroney, who feels he has been unfairly criticized all season for not being a bigger impact running the ball. Maroney's contribution this season may be underrated, considering he plays on a pass happy offense; that features Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth. What Maroney's critics fail to realize, when called upon this season, Maroney has made the plays. With only 185 carries this season, Maroney rushed for 835 yards with a rushing average of 4.5 yards per carry, including six touchdowns.

Brady said Maroney has been solid all year, despite flying under the radar. "Laurence has been great! He's been playing good all season," said Brady following the game. "I don't think he probably had all of the opportunities he would have hoped, but his role has been whatever he's got and he's been extremely productive.

"The way we've thrown the ball with multiple receivers on the field, it puts a lot of stress on the defense," said Brady. "Any time you have Randy and Wes out there and Donte and Jabar [Gaffney] all making plays … really, Laurence, thank God, lost it there for a little bit, but he's obviously found his way, and he's been extremely productive tonight [and] had some huge runs. I thought the receivers did an incredible job of blocking, I don't know if you guys noticed that, but that's what it takes: team football. I think that's why we're in this position: because of a bunch of selfless players, whether it [is] Laurence or the receivers or the offensive line, [who] always count on each other to do their job."

Maroney's running mates raved about his work rushing the football against the Jags.

"That's what you expect from a running back in general," said running back Kevin Faulk after the game. "Him doing his job: running the ball, finding the holes, [and] doing what you have to do to make yardage."

Patriots' fullback Heath Evans said Maroney was important for the Patriots running attack. "Maroney stepped up. That's my praise for him, its good coaching and listening on his part. He ran hard and he has a lot of talent and I'm proud of him."

Patriots' coach Bill Belichick said Maroney not only ran well, but he did it against a physical defense. "I thought Laurence ran well and our line blocked well. We had some good holes … Laurence ran well. Kyle [Brady] helped us, too, [blocking] on the edge."

Although he might have been overlooked, Maroney never doubted his ability to make big plays when the game was on the line. "Sooner than later, the running game had to kick in and when we did turn to it I knew we had to be prepared," said Maroney. "We have been here and worked hard and knew we would finally get a chance to show the world that we do have some type of running game."

The Patriots rushed for 145 yards, which is five yards per carry as a team to Jacksonville's 80 yards, 3.6 yards a rush. Maroney did indeed help show the world what the Patriots can do on the ground

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