Taylor plenty swift
He, other backs had some pop
FOXBOROUGH - The difference between today’s NFL and the one Fred Taylor feasted on for most of his 11-year career are obvious. Taylor thrived in the era of the feature back. James Stewart was the man in Jacksonville when Taylor arrived there in 1998, then Taylor took on the role, putting together seven 1,000-yard seasons.
But with the way the game’s morphed, running back has become more of a two-man operation. Taylor saw it happen his last few years in Jacksonville as Maurice Jones-Drew emerged. “I was the starter,’’ he said. “But I was a complement to Maurice.’’ When he arrived in New England in the offseason, Taylor knowingly accepted the split gig as part of the job.
“In this day and age,’’ Taylor said, “everyone wants a two-headed monster - two running backs that can have change-of-pace capabilities.’’
Four of the five running backs on the Patriots depth chart were active yesterday, and coach Bill Belichick utilized each of them. When starter Laurence Maroney went down with a thigh injury in the first half, the lion’s share of the snaps and carries went to Taylor, and he took advantage.
He turned 21 rushes into 105 yards in a 26-10 win over the Falcons - the 49th 100-yard game of his career and the first time a Patriots rusher has reached the century mark since Sammy Morris against Oakland last December. As much as Taylor was the focal point of a rushing attack that was as potent as it’s been all year, with Kevin Faulk and Morris frequently coming in and out, Taylor was also just a part of the Patriots’ machine of running backs.
“Each guy has to be ready,’’ Taylor said. “If you’re not out there getting in the groove, touching the ball, you can turn into a block of ice and then you’re not ready when it’s your turn, so you have to stay in the game. You have to ask questions as this guy runs off the field. ‘What’d you see? What’d you think? This is what I saw from the sideline.’ You have to always work together.’’
After running the ball 23 times in their opener against Buffalo and 20 times last week in a loss to the Jets, the Patriots ran the ball 39 times on the Falcons, dominating not just the ground game (168 rushing yards to 58), but time of possession (39:49 to 20:11).
Taylor set the tone on the second possession, taking four carries up the middle for 41 yards. The last run was practically an 8-yard runway walk up the middle to the end zone that put the Patriots up 10-3.
“[The offensive linemen] did most of that,’’ Taylor said. “They handled the down linemen. The linebackers, they didn’t maintain their discipline in their gap assignment. My job was just to run straight. I didn’t do much. On the touchdown run, you see I walked in the end zone, so the offensive line blocked it up like they were supposed to.’’
But between the way the line made room for the running backs, and Taylor’s ability to make the right cuts, there was a bit of mutual admiration at work.
“He runs hard, he sees the holes, he makes the cuts and he’s able to break tackles,’’ said center Dan Koppen. “He did that early on and got the extra yards, so when a guy is running like that for you, it makes you want to block for him a little bit harder.’’
During that string of carries in the first quarter, Taylor shook free from a couple of tacklers and broke loose for a 19-yarder - the Patriots’ longest run of the season - and for a player with a collection of long runs on his résumé (five seasons with bursts of at least 70 yards), it was familiar.
“It felt good,’’ Taylor said. “It always feels good when you can run a few guys over and create some momentum for the offense. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.’’
When he signed his two-year, $5 million deal with the Patriots, Taylor said he was happy to have a job in a recession. Yesterday, he said, spelling Maroney and sparking the running game was simply part of that job.
“We did say we wanted to try and establish the run,’’ Taylor said. “Coach challenged us, the offensive line, the backs, and we were fortunate enough to go out there and make it happen.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.