BALTIMORE - It was supposed to be a breakout year for Laurence Maroney. Instead, it has been a season filled with more breaks than the second-year running back could ever have envisioned.
Maroney sat out three games in October because of a groin injury and has seen spotty service since his return. Asked recently if he mentions the subject of playing time to his superiors, Maroney gave a wise answer.
"I don't ask, they don't tell," he said.
But there was no question Maroney turned in one his busiest - and better - performances of the season last night as the Patriots pulled out an improbable 27-24 victory on a windy and wild night at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Like I said, I'm going to be patient and get my chance to help the team out," Maroney said.
Maroney displayed the kind of toughness he has sometimes been accused of lacking while rushing for 44 hard-earned yards on 13 carries. He also caught two passes for a team-high 79 yards, both receptions coming on scoring drives.
Perhaps most impressively, Maroney was regularly utilized in pass protection, a responsibility that usually falls to veteran Kevin Faulk. The Patriots obviously felt comfortable with Maroney's progress toward mastering that difficult chore.
"From what I saw on the sideline, Laurence played well," fellow running back Heath Evans said. "He was picking up yards after the catch and picking up the blitz."
Maroney came into the game with just two receptions, both coming against Washington in late October. He doubled that against the Ravens, catching both balls thrown his way.
"I don't grade running backs, but when he got the opportunity he made some plays," left tackle Matt Light said.
The first came on the Patriots' opening drive of the second half. Maroney turned a short pass into a 36-yard gain after quarterback Tom Brady bought himself some time by running right with big Haloti Ngata in pursuit.
The Patriots then handed off to Maroney on three straight draw plays, totaling 9 yards, and Faulk got 2 yards and a first down with another draw. Five plays later, Randy Moss pulled in a 3-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 17.
Two possessions later, the Patriots faced first and 20 from their 33. Maroney caught a short pass on the left side and wasn't brought down until 43 yards later.
The drive stalled, but the Patriots were able to cut the Ravens' lead to 24-20 when Stephen Gostkowski booted a 38-yard field goal with 8:41 to play.
"[The running backs] played great, they've played great all year," Brady said. "They run it and make yards. They made some big plays in the passing game."
The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 15 games, the longest such streak in the NFL, and only two in their past 31 games. Kansas City's Larry Johnson gained 120 yards against them last December and Travis Henry, then with Tennessee, picked up 107 yards last November.
"It was definitely a physical defense," said Maroney, whose longest run was 6 yards. "They're tough. We had to run hard and match their physical play."