Pats RB Faulk continues to flourish in understated role
Posted: Monday January 21, 2008 2:20PM; Updated: Monday January 21, 2008 3:41PM
One hour after the confetti fell and a trophy was raised, Patriots running back Kevin Faulk gathered the last of his belongings and prepared to leave the New England locker room. He walked past the stalls of Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau, two likely future Hall of Famers. He continued past the lockers of Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi, two Patriots greats. When he ducked behind a curtain to visit with his family, he was out of the view of his teammates, if not completely gone from their thoughts.
"He's one of those guys who's irreplaceable," Patriots guard Logan Mankins said.
"Him and No. 12," said fullback Heath Evans, referring also to Tom Brady. "They're in the same boat in my mind."
In protecting their perfect season and advancing to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in seven seasons, the Patriots have come to lean on the gifts of a 31-year-old part-timer.
Faulk, a third-down specialist, has never had the Patriots' backfield to himself and he probably never will. When he was drafted out of LSU in the second round of the 1999 draft, he had to share time with Terry Allen. Over the next seven seasons Faulk platooned with Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon. This season, he has split time with second-year veteran Laurence Maroney, who formed an explosive tandem with Faulk on Sunday in New England's 21-12 victory over the Chargers in the AFC title game.
But in the Patriots' most critical moments in their unbeaten season, Faulk has been the player most likely to deliver a nifty run, a crushing block or a fingertip catch. It has become so customary that tackle Matt Light doesn't even have to look up from the line of scrimmage to know where Brady has thrown a critical pass.
"Whenever there's a big play to be made, there always seems to be a 33 at the end of it," Light said.
As defenses have schemed to contain wideout Randy Moss -- in the playoffs, Jacksonville and San Diego each limited him to one catch -- Faulk has emerged as one of Brady's most reliable outlets. In the regular-season finale against the Giants, Faulk had a season-high eight catches for 64 yards, keeping a late drive alive with a 13-yard catch on third-and-11. He added five catches for 36 yards in the AFC divisional playoff against the Jaguars.