Faulk is one who enjoys the grind
FOXBOROUGH -- In the end, the only beauty that rose out of the soggy ugliness of yesterday's game was that it was a win, something that meant more to Kevin Faulk than the fact that he set a career high with 96 rushing yards.
The 27-year-old ground out that yardage in 23 carries, and when one adds in his 58 yards receiving on six catches, he helped New England control the clock on a day when that was vital to holding onto a slim lead.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Faulk in a quiet locker room that reflected the fact that yesterday's game was far from a romp. But, added Faulk, "You never know how a game's going to go in the NFL. We just had to keep fighting the whole game."
Faulk's rushing helped open the field for some of quarterback Tom Brady's 20 completions, and his receptions contributed to Brady's 259 passing yards.
Faulk had 28 yards in the first quarter and 44 by halftime, and Cleveland's defense didn't do much at halftime to stop him. Midway through the third quarter, three critical Faulk runs set up the Adam Vinatieri field goal that put the Patriots ahead for good.
As the game became bogged down, with the midfield turf turning to mud, Faulk took a handoff up the middle for 5 yards to the Cleveland 30, and on the next play broke a quick hitter off left guard for 14 more to the 16. Another 7-yard run up the middle got the ball to the 9, and although the drive stalled there, Faulk's work set up a 28-yard chip shot for Vinatieri.
"They had a really good defense," said the 5-foot-8-inch, 202-pounder, a former high school All-American who at Louisiana State finished his career fifth in NCAA history with 6,833 all-purpose yards and 53 total touchdowns, and trailed only Georgia's Herschel Walker in Southeastern Conference history in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. "So the only way to beat a good defense is execution. You know, whoever executes the best is going to win the game."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Faulk's ability to read the defense and make adjustments. "Kevin ran hard today," he said. "The Cleveland defense was doing a lot of slanting and Kevin was able to cut the ball back on them and read his own blockers and have patience. He has a way of making people miss. They're a good defensive team, and to be able to rush on them was good."
But even being in first place in the AFC East halfway through the season is not much, said Faulk, whose relatively small size raised worries among some NFL scouts around the draft. The first half is just that, he said, and there's a long way to go.
"We still have to go out and play," said Faulk. "We've got a game next week against a tough opponent [Denver]."
Nor did the aesthetics of the game much bother Faulk.
"It doesn't matter how you win a game in the NFL. You can win the game by 1 point. It could be 1-0, or 2-0, it doesn't matter how you win it. You just want the win and get ready for next week."
In the fourth quarter, Faulk's gutsy grinding game set up another Vinatieri field goal, giving his team at least a bit of breathing room in the final stages of the game. At the seven-minute mark, Faulk made a series of plunges into the line to get the ball close enough for the day's final score.
"When the play is called, you've just got to line up and get ready," said Faulk. "Our offensive line did a great job today, too."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.