For whatever job needs doing, Patriots can turn to Morris
FOXBOROUGH - In the big situations that require a small gain, Patriots running back Sammy Morris has been tapped to make the critical play more than once this season.
As part of a class of running backs fused for maximum options, Morris may not know exactly how he will be used on game day, so he has to be prepared for it all. Against the Broncos last week, Morris led the team in rushing (17 carries, 68 yards) and carved out 35 yards on a screen pass that set up a touchdown in the first quarter of the 20-17 overtime loss.
Two weeks earlier, Morris was called on to scrounge for 1 yard on fourth and 1 from the Patriots’ 24 against Atlanta. He got the first down, keeping the drive alive for a field goal in a 26-10 victory. The following week, he picked up a first down on fourth and 1 from the Ravens’ 3-yard line. Morris emerged from the pile pumping his fist, having given the offense another opportunity, and it capitalized when Tom Brady ran in for a touchdown in the 27-21 win.
When he is not being handed the ball, Morris has been asked to block or chip in on special teams.
“I put the onus on myself to approach it as a professional and realize that’s my job,’’ Morris said. “It’s pretty indicative of most guys in our locker room, which is why I like the attitude around here so much.’’
Following the Ravens game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Morris “has proved to us over the past couple of years that he’s a dependable player in every phase of the game, whether it be offense, in the kicking game, running game, passing game.’’
Morris joined the Patriots as a free agent in 2007, after playing seven seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. With the Bills, Morris paid attention to players like Larry Centers and Sam Gash, watching how they approached training and playing.
At times in his career, Morris has been the guy called upon to keep the team afloat in the absence of someone else. In Miami, Morris earned time after Ricky Williams bolted in 2004. He started eight of 13 games that season, rushing for 523 yards on 132 carries. He scored a then-career-best six touchdowns.
In his first year with the Patriots, Morris suffered a chest injury that shortened his season, but he enjoyed a career year in 2008. When Laurence Maroney went down with a season-ending injury, Maroney handled the bulk of the carries, rushing for a team-best 727 yards on 156 carries and seven touchdowns, all career highs. He was part of a running game that put up the best numbers for a Patriots team in more than 20 years (2,278 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns).
Now Morris may find himself more involved in the offense with running back Fred Taylor out indefinitely because of ankle surgery. Without Taylor, there will be more opportunities for the unit that includes Morris, Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Before the game against Denver, Morris didn’t know that he would be a frequent target, but he embraced the workload. Few things have been perfect for the Patriots offense this season. Inconsistency has plagued the group through five weeks, but that doesn’t hinder the potential, Morris said.
“I think that the positive is that it’s fixable,’’ he said. “It’s things that we’ve done in the past and done this year. So again, I think we’ll work on those things and kind of right the ship.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.