Backs are in a rush to help out
Patriots quintet grounded the Jets
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The last time the Patriots played here, Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the rest of the most potent offense in NFL history passed its way into the record books, capping a perfect regular season against the New York Giants.
Yesterday against the Jets, Giants Stadium's other tenant, the Patriots offense had a decidedly different look. Brady was absent with torn knee ligaments. Moss and the high-powered Patriots passing game were tempered significantly with Matt Cassel making his first start as a pro.
Instead, the running game was suddenly thrust to the forefront. Five running backs, led by Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan, spurred the offense with 104 rushing yards as the Patriots slogged to a 19-10 victory over the rival Jets.
"We have a lot of backs who all contributed," coach Bill Belichick said. "Kevin [Faulk] did a great job for us. Laurence [Maroney] ran hard and blocked well. Sammy [Morris] had some big catches and blocks, as did LaMont [Jordan]."
"I think our depth at running back definitely helped in this game."
Coming into yesterday's game, there was speculation about how the Patriots offense would change without Brady as its centerpiece. Naturally, the running game was seen as a means of alleviating the pressure on Cassel.
Faulk, who returned after missing the opener because of a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy in the offseason, emerged quickly as a target for the young quarterback. He caught Cassel's first pass out of the backfield for 14 yards - the first of four catches for 50 yards, second most on the team - to jump-start the Patriots' initial scoring drive.
"Whatever the game plan is we're going to do it, and if it involves us catching more passes we're going to do that," said Faulk.
In the second quarter, he made a lunging, one-handed catch for a 9-yard gain on a ball that was deflected and spun, end over end. The third-down catch gave the Patriots a first down at the Jets' 21-yard line and led to Stephen Gostkowski's second field goal.
"It was a good catch," Jordan said. "Faulk is capable of doing that."
The third quarter was decisive for the Patriots as they began to pull away. After Brandon Meriweather intercepted a Brett Favre pass and returned it to the Jets' 31, Faulk ran for 6 yards, then caught a screen pass for 22 yards to set up New England's only touchdown.
On third and 9 at the Jets' 30, Faulk slipped out of the backfield to the right and caught Cassel's short throw. He weaved between his blockers, eluding defenders before he was finally forced out of bounds at the 8-yard line. Two plays later, Sammy Morris scored from 1 yard to give the Patriots a 13-3 lead.
"I'm a football player, whatever the coaches ask me to, I'll do it - and try to do my best at it," Faulk said.
The Jets revamped their run defense in the offseason, most notably signing 6-foot-4-inch, 349-pound nose tackle Kris Jenkins to anchor the defensive line. For three quarters, the Patriots struggled to run the ball against that resurgent unit, which allowed just 49 rushing yards in Week 1 against Miami. But in the fourth quarter, the Patriots began to find running lanes more frequently, protecting the lead on the legs of Jordan.
The former Jet led the Patriots with 62 yards on 11 carries - all of which came in the second half as Maroney was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
"I knew when Laurence went out I would get an opportunity to get in the game and contribute," Jordan said.
After the Jets scored a touchdown to trim the deficit to 16-10, Jordan ran for 23 yards on New England's final scoring drive to seal the victory. He had 37 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
For the rest of this season, the Patriots will rely on their running backs, an unheralded group but perhaps the deepest unit in the league.
"We have a lot of backs who can complement each other," Morris said. "You ask any one of us and we'll tell you that, even before having a lot of talent, you have to have a lot of character with guys who are willing to share the load like that. When you put together character and ability it makes for a good mix."