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Frustrated Taylor strongly suggests he’s ready to retire

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 30, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Fred Taylor has reported to Gillette Stadium every day, a smile on his face, ready to do whatever he can to help the Patriots.

He has maintained a positive attitude amid one of his most trying seasons, and has done it so well he feels no one in or around the team has a true understanding of how frustrating his 13th NFL season has been.

But to talk to Taylor, one gets the impression that this could be his last season. He said yesterday that the time for him to call it a career is “extremely’’ close.

“I’ve been considering retiring since my ninth year, but fortunately for me, I have a heart that says ‘keep going,’ ’’ said Taylor, who turns 35 Jan. 27. “Even when family has called me home, my heart says, ‘keep going.’

“I think, at this point, talking to friends who have played for a long time and retired, some say, ‘Play until you can’t play anymore, until they won’t let you,’ some say, Play till your body speaks to you,’ some say what drove them into retirement is they couldn’t do what they felt like they were capable of doing anymore.

“There are so many things going through my head. I try to keep it in per spective. This game has been great to me, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve considered [retirement] many times over the years.

“I do know that I can still compete; that’s the thing that keeps me coming back. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to [contribute] due to the injuries. That’s the thing at this time that is pushing the percentages toward retirement.’’

Taylor, one of 18 players in league history with 11,000 career rushing yards, entered this year rejuvenated after ankle surgery cost him 10 games of the 2009 season, his first with the Patriots after 11 seasons in Jacksonville. With uncertainty surrounding the New England running game as training camp opened, Taylor had a real chance to contribute, and he started the year with 14 carries for 71 yards against the Bengals.

In that game, Taylor tweaked a toe on his right foot, which led to limited carries the next two weeks. On his final play in the Week 3 win over the Bills, he did serious damage to his left foot, when the ligament that runs under his big toe partially tore away from one of the sesamoid bones that attach it to the first metatarsal. That injury kept him out for seven games.

As weeks passed, fans began to wonder how a toe could keep Taylor off the field for so long. But many players have described turf toe as one of the most painful injuries they’ve endured. Taylor’s case was severe, and initially it was believed he’d need season-ending surgery.

And as Taylor noted, one foot problem can lead to a host of other issues.

“That’s the center of your universe,’’ he said. “Your toe gets jammed, you’re talking about it altering your walk, it may throw your gait off, which could lead to a calf injury, back [pain].’’

He returned to the game-day roster against the Lions Nov. 25 but didn’t play. Over the next two games, against the Jets and Bears, he had just seven end-of-game carries for 25 yards.

Then came a first, even for a man who has been in the NFL this long: Taylor was a healthy scratch when the Patriots played the Packers.

Running backs coach Ivan Fears broke the news to him that he wouldn’t be playing. He understood.

“Injuries had mounted, and the cause for me being eliminated was numbers,’’ said Taylor. “It wasn’t one of those things where it was a slap in the face. It was something that happened.’’

Active for last Sunday’s win over the Bills, he again didn’t see any action until late in the fourth quarter, finishing with one carry.

For a player who has more than 2,500 carries, and who went well past 1,000 yards every year but one in which he was able to play 12 games, it isn’t easy watching from the sideline.

“My honesty won’t allow me to say that it’s not tough,’’ he said. “Of course I love playing, anybody can see that, my family sees that, my friends see it. Even when I’m hurt, they can see frustration in my eyes. Quite frankly, of course I’d like to play more, but I understand it’s a young man’s game. And we’re winning.

“I would never try to stir up anything. I just try to be patient and mentally tough and focused on the task, and my mind-set is to be a champion at the end of the day.’’

Taylor realizes that this season, his contribution to the team may not be in 100-yard games. It may be in “the small things.’’ He sees BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s passion and hunger and offers whatever advice he can. He pushes the third-year back in the weight room, something that benefits both men.

Taylor is asked if winning a Super Bowl will seal the deal, whether getting his first ring will lead to him calling it a career.

“That has nothing to do with whatever decision I make, ultimately. I didn’t come into this season saying, ‘If we win the Super Bowl I’m retiring,’ ’’ he said. “It’s close. It’s definitely close. It’s very close, extremely.’’

He doesn’t want to jump the gun and start a “Brett Favre cycle,’’ as he called it. Which may be why Taylor comes close but holds the door open a bit for a 14th season.

“We have a good coaching staff,’’ he said. “They waited for me to get back. I could have been home on [injured reserve] trying to get better, or help the team any way I can, and it’s good that it was the latter, that we didn’t have to do the IR deal.

“Being here with the team, it’s been great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Especially if this is my last season, it’s been a great experience.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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