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The pile was dwindling

Smith, Faulk keep it moving on the ground

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' running backs knew it would be difficult to advance the football against Miami yesterday. Surely, no one said anything about lacerations and knockouts.

When Antowain Smith tried diving over a pile on a first down, his helmet came off once he made contact with the pile, and he was cut across his eyebrow, over the bridge of his nose, and across his cheek after hitting the turf. He said he believes the cuts came from someone's cleats.

"It looks like I was in a fight with Baby Joe Mesi last night," said Smith, who got six stitches after the Patriots' 12-0 triumph. "Feels like I caught a left hook or something."

With 13 minutes 50 seconds left in the game, running back Kevin Faulk hauled in a 15-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady, then got leveled by Miami safety Brock Marion, who forced a fumble and left Faulk motionless on the ground.

"I wasn't out cold, but I was out," said Faulk. Asked if he remembered lying on the ground, he said, "No, I don't, so I must have been out. I knew that something was wrong with me. I knew that, like, it wasn't normal. I didn't have that same, normal feeling when I got up."

That was the cost of having your number called against a stingy Dolphins defense in 17-degree-wind-chill weather. Smith and Faulk accounted for 95 of the team's 228 total yards and did their part to give the Patriots field position that was difficult to muster throughout the day.

"It wasn't like it was a secret or anything. Because of the weather, the only thing you could do in certain situations was run the ball," said Faulk. "It was just something that we had in our minds."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the player who produces in the games will get the most opportunities. After yesterday's game he liked what he saw from the only two backs he used.

"I thought Antowain ran hard," said Belichick. "Again, [the Dolphins] are tough defensively. You don't make a lot of yards against them. But I thought he ran hard and a couple of first downs there at the end of the game were big.

"I thought Kevin did a good job," the coach added. "I know he took a real hard hit on the turnover. But they all stepped in there and did a good job, so I'm sure we will be using all of them all the way through the year just like we did today."

Smith gained 60 yards on 27 carries for his first action in two weeks, and his most carries in a game this season.

"With the weather going the way it was going I knew I was going to get a chance to run the ball," said Smith, who often gets the nod in conditions such as yesterday's. He had a 20-yard scamper on first down from the New England 43-yard line with 3:15 left, all but sealing the victory.

His previous high in carries this season was 17 against Denver Nov. 3. In fact, the last time he had at least 20 carries in a game was last season -- Nov. 28 when he had 25 carries for 80 yards at Detroit.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, that it was going to be tough yards, so the thing was to just keep plugging away and hopefully you would come out with some positive yards," said Smith. "We knew it was going to be ugly weather, and from the beginning of the week, [Belichick] told me, `Get ready it's going to be your type of game.' "

"[Belichick] said, `Don't get frustrated. Just keep plugging up in there and hopefully we'll do enough good things on offense that we can get some yardage and come away with a win, basically."

Faulk had five carries for 20 yards to go with the 15-yard catch. His long carry was a 4-yard run on third and 4 from the New England 31 that kept the first drive of the game alive. But his most memorable moment was the hit he took from Marion after the 15-yard catch. He did not return to action.

Faulk said he did not know whether Marion's hit was helmet to helmet, as it appeared on the replay. After being told he was motionless on the ground, Faulk said, "For real? See, I don't remember." A former player at Louisiana State, Faulk joked that "I came to life when they told me about those Tigers," referring to LSU being selected to play in the national championship game.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 11 2 0 .846 20.7 16.1
Dolphins 8 5 0 .615 18.5 15.6
Bills 6 7 0 .462 16.5 15.4
Jets 5 8 0 .385 18.5 19.6
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