Green-Ellis now the name of the game
FOXBOROUGH - His mom is Latonia Green. His dad is Ronald Ellis. BenJarvus? That's just a name his mom liked when he was born back in July of 1985.
And that is the story of how a no-name running back came to have four names.
Patriots rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Coach Bill Belichick calls him "Benny") had the best game of his brief NFL career yesterday. He carried the ball 26 times for 105 yards and scored on a 1-yard run with just under two minutes to play in New England's methodical 20-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
After it was over, the undrafted back from New Orleans (via Ole Miss) stood at his locker and delivered all the correct answers, peppering his responses with "sir" and "ma'am". He credited his teammates, his coaches, and his parents. He said his mom never misses a game, and she's sticking around for Thursday's first-place joust with the Jets. Benny plans to do all the cooking. Jumbalaya and dirty rice are his specialties.
In a season of Patriots surprises, the emergence of Green-Ellis ranks near the top. He grew up in the Big Easy and went to St. Augustine, an all-boys' high school that produced NBA ballers Avery Johnson and Kerry Kittles. Green-Ellis played at Indiana before transferring to Mississippi, where he was an all-SEC selection. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent in May, cut him when the roster was set at 53 at the end of the summer, then brought him back to work with the practice squad.
Green-Ellis was not activated for any of New England's first four games. He was, after all, playing for a defending conference champion with established running backs named Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, Kevin Faulk, and Heath Evans.
One by one they got hurt, had "issues", and made way. At the end of the blowout loss in San Diego, Green-Ellis got on the field and caught a pass. Then he became a factor - on the field for 20, 18, and 33 snaps in games against Denver, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, respectively. Green-Ellis scored a touchdown in each of those games and yesterday he was on the field for 38 snaps, enjoying his first 100-yard game. His TD run capped a 19-play, nine-minute drive that Belichick termed "awesome."
Benny wasn't flexing his muscles or his mouth when it was over.
"It just feels good to get the 'W' more than anything," said Green-Ellis. "I didn't know it was 19 plays. No one in the huddle was tired."
"Mr. Humility," said Evans. "That's what we love about him. He fits in so well here. He is a guy who just comes to work hard and he is so smart for a young guy. You rarely see that. He's a patient player. That's how most of us are."
Green-Ellis's accomplishments make a great case for the vaunted Patriots "system." It goes something like this: take a smart player with skill and willingness to do what he's told and the Patriots will put him in position to succeed. It's Belichick 101 and it's been working in Foxborough since the turn of the century - never more obviously than now.
"There's a lot of great players in this league," said Evans. "But I firmly believe our coaching is special."
Which is not to say Green-Ellis is without talent. He won't break a lot of long gainers, but he rarely loses yardage. Benny's not a dancer. He stays low to the ground and wastes little effort going sideways to find a big play.
"It's better to take 4 than lose 5," said Green-Ellis. "We don't like negative plays. I just try to run and score touchdowns. The end zone is north-south - every end zone in America. I just try to keep my pads down, keep my legs moving, and just drive."
The New England scouting department can take a big bow on this one. Seven rounds came and went last spring and Green-Ellis never heard his name. Every NFL team had a crack at him. Multiple times.
"I had no control over that," he said. "It's not gonna help nothing if I hold a grudge. I just said, 'Let's go, make the team.' A lot of teams called. My agent said it's sometimes better to go undrafted because you get to pick. This was the best fit."
"He and [linebacker] Gary Guyton, obviously they should have been drafted," said Belichick. "We were hoping to get both of them, but if we really wanted him, we could have drafted him . . . but that is the scramble. [Green-Ellis] had two good years at Mississippi. We give our scouts and organization credit for having a group of guys there, and fortunately those two have come through for us."
With rushing touchdowns in four consecutive games, Green-Ellis is more than halfway to the franchise record of seven, set by Curtis Martin in 1996.
Martin came to New England with a lot more expectation than Green-Ellis. Drafted in the third round in 1995 out of Pittsburgh, Martin ran for 102 yards in his first NFL game. When Bill Parcells saw Martin speaking with the media after the performance - a scene reminiscent of yesterday's scrum around Green-Ellis - the Tuna waltzed by and quipped, "One-game wonder."
Martin turned out to be a lot more than a one-year wonder. He lasted 11 seasons and he's probably going to wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Green-Ellis? He's just happy to be in the NFL. And he'll be toting the rock for the Patriots again come Thursday.
Benny and the Jets.
Sorry, couldn't resist.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.