FOXBOROUGH - When quarterback Tom Brady looks back on the Patriots' win over the Cowboys last Sunday, one aspect that stands out was how often he saw running back Kevin Faulk in the huddle.
After Sammy Morris was knocked out of the game with a chest injury on the second play of the third quarter, the Patriots leaned heavily on Faulk, keeping him on the field for 32 of the final 39 snaps. For a player who most often is on the field on third down, and had totaled just seven snaps the prior week, it was a significant increase in playing time.
To Brady, it was a classic case of the Patriots relying on a formula that has been part of the fabric of their success: When one man goes down, the next must step up.
"One thing that I thought was great was the way that Kevin Faulk stepped in there and played against the regular defense, running a bunch of runs that he probably hasn't run in a few years since Corey [Dillon] got here [in 2004]," Brady said. "We're going to need more of that."
True, the Patriots will need to lean on their other running backs as Morris, who missed practice yesterday, is expected to be sidelined for at least Sunday's game against Miami.
Help could come in the form of Week 1 starter Laurence Maroney, who is nearing a return after missing the last three games with a groin injury. But considering that Maroney was still limited in yesterday's practice, it's possible the responsibilities will be divided among the rest of the stable, which includes the shifty Faulk (5 feet 8 inches, 202 pounds) and more straight-ahead types in seven-year veteran Heath Evans (6-0, 250) and former practice squad player Kyle Eckel (5-11, 237).
"We have confidence with whichever guy is in there," coach Bill Belichick said. "We've used all of them and we'll continue to do that."
Evans (10 carries, 20 yards) and Eckel (13 carries, 36 yards) have rushed sparingly, with Eckel just promoted from the practice squad Oct. 1 and getting most of his work at the end of games that have been decided. Evans, meanwhile, has been utilized more as a fullback and occasional tight end. Both have played on special teams.
The expectation this week is that both will work more on early-down running in practice. Evans and Eckel naturally welcome the additional responsibilities, while Faulk, as one of the team's seven captains, also will be ready to duplicate his efforts (12 carries, 47 yards) from last Sunday. Faulk has 22 rushes for 97 yards on the year.
"It's what you sign up for, everybody has a competitive nature and wants to get in and get plays," Faulk said. "The thing is being ready when that opportunity comes. You never want to see a guy get hurt and injured, but when that guy goes down, you have to be ready."
The Patriots have been in this position before, with one of their more notable shorthanded performances coming against their opponents Sunday, the Dolphins. With Dillon and reserves Patrick Pass and Faulk injured in a 2005 game at Miami, Evans, then a newly signed free agent, responded with a career-high 84 yards on 17 carries.
Despite Evans's limited rushes this year, Belichick indicated the Patriots won't be hesitant to hand him the ball.
"He has a different style of running than some of our other backs, but he is a good runner," Belichick said. "He has good vision. He protects the ball well. He has good power, plays with good body lean. He can carry the ball and he's done it for us effectively."
The 25-year-old Eckel has less of a track record.
"We saw him run well two years ago when he was here in preseason," Belichick said. "He runs with power. He's a strong kid. He has a low center of gravity, got good balance, and has power. He's obviously more of an inside runner, a fullback-type of runner kind of like Heath. We have confidence if he has it."
The Patriots' confidence in Morris had been growing, as the eight-year veteran is leading the team with 85 carries for 384 yards. Brady believes the team will miss Morris's hard-charging style, and knows how much Morris would have wanted to suit up against the Dolphins, the team for whom he played the last three seasons.
"In the meantime, we'll have to fill in with the other backs," Brady said. "It's a test for the offense any time that guys are down other guys have to step it up."
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.