FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Maybe it was the sight of Sammy Morris hobbling off the field on his team's third play from scrimmage, but on Sunday something clicked with Patriots running back Laurence Maroney.
There was no Fred Taylor, no Morris. There was really no one near him on the depth chart to pick up the slack if he struggled. Now, more than ever, the Patriots needed Maroney to take his game to the next level.
"It was sad to see Sammy go down, but I was like, 'Well, you've been asking for your opportunity, here you go,'" Maroney said. "It was one of those where I knew I had to step up and play big. Put the team on my shoulders in terms of the running game."
A little more than six minutes later, Maroney took an inside handoff, patiently waited for the play to develop, then followed the key block of rookie Sebastian Vollmer and burst to a 45-yard touchdown run.
Six touchdown chucks by Tom Brady later, it would be easy to forget Maroney's efforts. But the fourth-year back rushed 16 times for 123 yards. It was the third highest regular-season rushing total of Maroney's career and more than doubled his output for the 2009 season (99 yards on 32 carries entering the game).
"I think Laurence ran hard," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He got a little crease and we all know once he gets out there he can run, and he did. He turned it on. He had a couple of nice runs and he ran hard. We had a little bit of space, and once he got some momentum, he's a hard guy to bring down. We've all seen that before."
Maroney was all smiles after the game. He joked with reporters throughout his postgame chat, even going into "overtime" despite announcing at first that he'd only be tackling five questions.
Maroney was asked to describe "the touchdown." He playfully responded, "Which one? We scored a lot." After the inquisitor clarified he was asking about the 45-yard run, Maroney again tried to take the spotlight off himself.
"It really isn't about me," he said. "As a team, we played a great game. A complementary game, both the offense and defense. I had a good game, but it was more that the team had a great game."
But eventually Maroney took some pride in his work.
"I was running downhill, but I was trying to be patient," said Maroney. "It parted like the Red Sea. I had no choice but to take it. I've got to be patient. Especially with the conditions, I knew I had to let blocks happen. The blocks were going to be a lot slower because guys were trying to keep their footing. I knew it wasn't going to be a real fast game, more of a patient, downhill game and I was able to slip through the tackle."
Added center Dan Koppen: "It was a simple dive play up and we were able to split the defense and Laurence took it full speed ahead and took it to the house. It was great run by him. He saw the crease and hit it."
Maroney made sure to thank each of his linemen individually after the run. The fans at Gillette Stadium didn't extend such pleasantries to Maroney a couple of weeks back.
Maroney heard boos during a 27-21 victory over the Ravens in Week 4 after rushing for a mere 6 yards on seven carries. With Taylor shelved after right ankle surgery, Maroney acknowledged he needed to improve.
But the Patriots focused on Morris in recent weeks, until his first-quarter knee injury thrust Maroney back into the spotlight.
"I told you, the one thing I never did was lose confidence in myself," said Maroney. "I knew with the right opportunity, we could go out there and I could do my thing. I never lost confidence, but after a game like this, it does make me feel good."
So good that he didn't even mind when reporters kept firing away after his allotted five questions were up. "You're at eight [questions] now, but that's all right," he said. "I'm in a good mood today."
So, Laurence, where do you go from here?
"I just keep going," said Maroney. "It's one game for me, personally, to really build off. I can't get too high off it. It's a good game for me, but now I need the consistency. How many more can I put together? That's the only thing. It forces me to keep getting better. Keep putting good games together."