FOXBOROUGH - Laurence Maroney isn't sure why he didn't play during the first half of the Patriots' 31-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday night.
"I don't ask. They don't tell," said Maroney yesterday.
The second-year running back described this season as a "roller coaster," and the nadir of the ride may have been Sunday, when Maroney wasn't on the field for a single play in the first half, as the Patriots called 28 pass plays and just one designed run.
The Patriots adjusted at halftime and Maroney finished with 15 snaps (of a possible 73, including plays negated by penalties) and had 10 carries for 31 yards and the eventual winning touchdown, a gritty 4-yard effort with 7:20 remaining.
It was the type of tough run that critics of Maroney, who has been used sparingly in short-yardage and goal-line situations this season, have been waiting to see.
"It was cool. It was a nice, tough, hard run for all the media who say I don't run hard. There you go, are y'all happy now?" said a playful Maroney. "It was basically get in there by any means necessary. It wasn't like I knew in my mind what I was going to do. It was all reaction."
The obvious reaction to Maroney's absence in the first half was that something was wrong, but it appears it was the play-calling and not his play that had Maroney riding the bench. Kevin Faulk is the preferred running back for the Patriots in passing sets because of his deftness as a receiver and a protector for quarterback Tom Brady, and it's tough to argue with the results - the Patriots scored on all three of their first-half possessions.
Maroney understands that he and Faulk, who sat out yesterday's practice with a thigh injury, have different roles.
"It ain't that I couldn't run [those plays]. I could. We all practice the same plays, but you know Kevin is our passing guy," said Maroney. "He's that situational part of the team. Kevin is the passing running back, so when we're in those passing formations like that, I'm in some of them, Heath [Evans] is in some of them, but Kevin is the guy, so long as Kevin is healthy.
"It's just like saying I'm the running guy. If I'm healthy, they're going to use me to run the ball. That ain't saying Kevin can't run the ball, because we all know Kevin can run the ball, but Laurence is the running guy. Kevin is the passing guy. We each know our roles."
Maroney leads the team in rushing, despite missing three games with a groin injury and leaving a 56-10 win over Buffalo Nov. 18 in the first half with a foot injury. He has 105 rushes for 467 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per rush. He is averaging 58.4 yards rushing in the eight games in which he has played this season, which is actually slightly higher than the 55.5 yards he averaged through the first 11 games of last season, all of which he played in. But that hasn't stopped constant critiques of his running style and claims that he leaves too many yards on the field.
His long rush this season is 19 yards, which came in his only 100-yard rushing effort of the season. Maroney had 19 carries for 103 yards in the Patriots' first meeting with Buffalo, a 38-7 win at Gillette Stadium Sept. 23.
However, his touchdown run last Sunday showed that the Patriots believe he can pick up the tough yards, even if he had a little help. Left guard Logan Mankins shoved Maroney across the goal line. "I was already in. He just hit me to solidify it, but it was cool. I really didn't see that one coming," said Maroney.
"It feels like they have a little faith in me," he added. "I couldn't let them down. It was a good play. The line did an excellent job of blocking. It wasn't no walk-in, but as a running back you got to be able to make a couple of people miss."
Maroney wouldn't take the bait when asked if he'd be more frustrated with his role if the team weren't 11-0 heading into its Monday night meeting with the Ravens. Like any good player, Maroney would like to be on the field more, but he's not about to gripe.
"It is what it is," said Maroney, parroting coach Bill Belichick. "I'd like to do a lot of things more, but they don't need it from me right now. Like I say all the time, my time is coming."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.