Maroney has carried Patriots since teammates' prank
Posted: Friday February 1, 2008 12:09PM; Updated: Friday February 1, 2008 7:03PM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Quarterback Tom Brady was having a tough afternoon. Through three quarters of the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, he had thrown more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two) and the Patriots were struggling to separate themselves from the hobbled (but determined) Chargers. Needing a spark, New England did just what you would expect: It turned to a running back whose toughness and maturity were questioned late in the season when anonymous teammates left diapers in front of his locker.
Laurence Maroney can chuckle about the prank today, as the Patriots prepare to face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday. But his words were coated with discomfort Thursday as he recalled the incident that took place after he did not get on the field in the first half of a win over Philadelphia in Week 12 and the motivation that incident served in the AFC Championship Game.
Up until the third quarter of that game against San Diego, it had been a difficult season for Maroney. Slowed by injuries for much of his two-year career -- and sidelined at times in 2007 by play-calling that leaned heavily on the pass -- he heard criticisms that he was soft, brittle and unwilling to play through pain. He wanted to lash out, but did the smart thing and kept his composure and waited for his turn. Late in the third quarter, his moment for redemption arrived in a way that few could have predicted.
With the Patriots leading 14-12, several teammates turned to him and told him it was time to put the club on his shoulders and "carry" it to the Super Bowl. Yes, Maroney -- the same player who ran for more than 100 yards only twice in his first 27 games, including the playoffs. The same guy who was being called a bust as recently as December because he had failed to live up to the expectations of a 2006 first-round draft choice. The same player who had diapers left in front of his locker in November because some teammates wondered if he was too pampered.
"Some of the players on the team were like, put us on your shoulders and carry us to the Super Bowl," Maroney recalled. "I remember Donte Stallworth saying it to me and Jabar Gaffney. It was a good feeling that you've got your receivers and your teammates like, 'Put us on your shoulders.' They [had] that much confidence in me so I took advantage."
Actually, the turnaround began three games after the diaper incident. In a mid-December game against the Jets, he ran 26 times for 104 yards and scored the Patriots' only offensive touchdown in a 20-10 victory. It ignited a current five-game stretch in which he has surpassed 100 yards rushing four times, doubling his previous career total. He also has scored at least one touchdown in five-consecutive games -- the longest streak of his career previously was two games, which he did twice.
"Maroney's a good kid," Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison said. "He's still young, obviously. He likes to have a good time. But he understands the importance of his preparation during the week and the consistency of his job. It's not about being a one-week wonder; it's about sustaining that for over 16 weeks, 20 weeks, what have you. Maroney's done a tremendous job of trying to stay humble and keep his focus on football. I always tell him the more success you have, the more humble you should be. That's something that's hard for a lot of young players to have. But it's something I'm going to continue to reiterate to him."
Maroney has a playful side to him. It came out recently after one game when a reporter asked him about his running style. One of the knocks on Maroney as a pro is that he doesn't always hit the hole hard, choosing instead to dance or bounce outside. But in this game he was decisive, something the reporter pointed out.
"I thought I was still dancing," Maroney answered. "I thought I had my tap-dancing shoes on."
Maroney, a native of St. Louis, often uses humor to make his point. It enables him to disarm people while also getting their point, such as when people continue to question his toughness.
"Everybody has something to say," Maroney said. "I just look at the media like, 'You stand in front of me and tackle me since I'm so weak. And since my toughness is not that good, let's see where your toughness is.'
"I'm never going to tell them that. I'm just going to continue being me."
Being himself has been pretty good of late -- particularly during that fateful sequence against the Chargers. With New England leading by two late in the third quarter, he accounted for 38 of the 67 yards on a touchdown drive that made it a two-score game early in the fourth quarter. One of the plays was a 20-yard run, which marked the third time in five games he had broken off a carry of that distance or longer -- something he had failed to do in 14 consecutive games before getting on his hot streak.
"I patiently waited," Maroney said of his time to shine. "There's no better feeling than now, doing it when it really counted."
For the Patriots, that moment could not have come at a better time.