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Patriots Notebook

Ball not dropped by the backup RBs

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 28, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - With a committee of running backs, when something goes wrong, there is always someone to fill in.

At times that means another player will benefit from someone else’s mistake. In yesterday’s 35-7 win over the Jaguars, Laurence Maroney fumbled on the 1-yard line on the opening drive of the game for the Patriots. He didn’t return, and Sammy Morris took over.

Morris gained 95 yards on 12 carries and scored a touchdown. It was the most yards he had gained in a game this season.

Maroney had been leading the charge, making the most of his chances while Morris was out with a knee injury for four weeks after the Tennessee game. Maroney entered the game with a career-high nine touchdowns, but he let a chance for his 10th score tumble to the ground for a turnover.

Morris handled the bulk of the duties until the fourth quarter, when Fred Taylor came in, picking up 35 yards on 11 carries. The return of Taylor from ankle surgery means there is a healthy group of running backs before the playoffs.

“Yeah, [it’s good] any time you can get guys back, especially Fred,’’ center Dan Koppen said. “The running he brings and the runner he is, it’s good to have him back out there. Sammy is just a power guy and really finds the holes and broke one on that short-yardage play. That shows you what he can do also.’’

Morris made a 55-yard run, matching his career high. With Stephen Neal playing for the first time in three weeks, it allowed Dan Connolly to step in at fullback and make blocks that helped spring Morris.

“He does a great job back there,’’ Morris said. “He’s got good speed and he’s good at the point of contact. He did a lot of things well and makes our reads a lot easier.’’

The Patriots ran for 197 yards on 36 carries.

Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson forced the Maroney fumble on the Jacksonville 1 and linebacker Daryl Smith recovered. It was the second time Maroney fumbled inside an opponents’ 5 this season; he coughed it up on the 2 against the Colts and has four fumbles this season, the most in his career.

Taylor said he talked to Maroney, who had five carries for 22 yards before being benched, to keep his spirits up.

“I just told him, ‘In all situations, try to pull something positive from it,’ ’’ Taylor said. “God works in mysterious ways, we all know that. I just told him, ‘Whether good or bad, it happened for a reason. So just be patient, find a positive, and keep your head up.’ ’’

Friends are foes
Taylor played for the Jaguars for 11 seasons before joining the Patriots.

Playing against former teammates, Taylor said, was like going against familiar faces at practices or training camp again.

“Only difference is, in the real game, they get to throw you to the ground; in practice they couldn’t,’’ he said. “But a lot of laughs, friendly trash talking. Those guys weren’t seriously talking trash, they were just trying to be out there and have fun.’’

Taylor was happy to be part of an AFC East championship team.

“It’s been about nine years since I’ve had a hat and T-shirt, so I’m definitely going to frame mine up, box it up, throw it in the attic. Memories, man, that’s what it’s all about.’’

Warren returns
Defensive lineman Ty Warren was back on the field after being inactive last week with an ankle injury.

He didn’t want to take credit for doing too much, but he was able to bust through the line and help stop the Jaguars from converting on fourth and 1 from their 35 in the first quarter. He sent running back Maurice Jones-Drew scrambling and James Sanders came in for the tackle, stopping him for no gain.

“I can’t really take any credit on a lot that went on because I was really more insurance out there,’’ Warren said.

“Guys like [Myron] Pryor, [Ron] Brace, Jarvis [Green], Mike Wright, those guys stepped in, and I just came in when they felt like I needed to go in there. So it was good.’’

Baker does it
Tight end Chris Baker caught his first touchdown pass since Week 5 against the Falcons, a 26-yard strike on the first play of the second quarter. Baker seemed to catch a slight break, not drawing an offensive pass interference penalty after he appeared to push off safety Gerald Alexander.

“That’s part of the game,’’ Baker said. “If I’d have kept running, he would have run into me, and I’d have been hoping for a pass interference call on him. The ball was in the air, and I just wanted to attack it. I created a little space for myself.’’

Baker has excelled as a blocker in the running game, but he has had limited impact as a pass catcher. He had two catches for 32 yards yesterday, but he had only one reception in the previous five weeks.

“I’m just happy to be involved in the passing game,’’ Baker said. “We were really trying to spread the ball around today to a lot of guys, the tight ends.’’

Praise for Meyer
Among the coaching fraternity, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick counts University of Florida head man Urban Meyer as one of his closest acquaintances. Belichick knew few details about Meyer’s leave of absence from the Gators, but he shared some thoughts.

“I have all the respect in the world for Urban,’’ Belichick said. “He’s done a great job. He’s been a great contributor to college football at all the different places that he’s coached, in the MAC or at Utah or at Florida.

“Certainly that’s a loss for all of us in the football community, particularly the University of Florida. Nobody has been better to me than he has, as far as visiting Florida and being helpful with scouting players.

“I’ve had a great relationship with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.’’

Happy to be here
While a few of the Patriots can fall back on many memories when it comes to the playoffs, cornerback Leigh Bodden is enjoying winning the division. Bodden was with Detroit’s 0-16 team last season and now he is headed to the playoffs for the first time in his seven-year career. “This is definitely the reason why I wanted to come to this organization,’’ he said. “Going through 0-16 was tough, and I definitely didn’t want to go back to that. I’m glad the Patriots saw something in me that helped this team, and I was excited to come.’’ . . . Inactives for the Patriots included Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Rich Ohrnberger, Titus Adams, Vince Wilfork, and Nick Kaczur. Isaiah Stanback was the third quarterback. Wilfork was inactive in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006 . . . Any remaining playoff tickets will be sold through Ticketmaster tomorrow at 10 a.m. Go to www.ticketmaster.com or call 1-800-745-3000.

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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