Maroney winning over fans with rushing skills

Douglas Flynn

The afternoon began with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz stepping out on the Gillette Stadium turf wearing a Laurence Maroney jersey.

By the end of the day, there were no doubt a few more of those No. 39 replicas flying off the shelves in the Patriots Pro Shop, and no just because Big Papi is such a fashion trend-setter.

Maroney has had his share of critics in his first two pro seasons, but the 2006 first-round pick won over plenty of new fans yesterday with a career-high 156 yards rushing on just 14 carries.

"That's my homeboy," said Maroney of Ortiz, who brought the World Series trophy to Foxboro with teammates Kevin Youkilis and Curt Schilling and owner John Henry. "I saw him before he saw me and I was like, 'Oh, my dawg has my jersey on.' I told him I was going to give him something to watch if he was going to wear my jersey."

Ortiz and the rest of the 68,756 on hand had plenty to watch, as he rattled off back-to-back runs of 51 and 59 yards in the first half, the latter going for a touchdown.

"I can't even take credit for those plays," Maroney said. "The line did so good a job blocking, one of you all (reporters) could have run through those holes. I don't know if you could have scored, but you could have got through the holes."

Once through the gaping hole on his TD run, Maroney even had time to watch himself.

"I didn't really know how far away I was (from the nearest defender) until I looked up at the megatron and was like 'Woah, let me slow down a little bit,'" Maroney said. "Let me save my legs a little bit, this might be a long game."

Maroney had plenty of help from the big guys up front and fullback Heath Evans, who delivered crushing lead blocks on both long runs. But he also had his path cleared by an unlikely source on his 51-yard jaunt. Wide receiver Randy Moss didn't quite level anyone like Evans, but he got himself in the way long enough to add an extra 10 or 20 yards to Maroney's run.

"He was doing an excellent job blocking downfield," said Maroney. "And the defender kept backing up. As long as he keeps backing up and Randy keeps chasing him, I'm just gonna run behind Randy. ... It was just a good play by Randy, bottom line."

And a couple of real good plays by Maroney, who finished with an 11.1-yard average per carry - the highest single-game average for a Patriot runner since Sam Cunningham's 11.4 against the Bills in 1974.

"It's always nice to see a back break through the line of scrimmage clean, especially a guy like Laurence," said coach Bill Belichick. "He's got great speed. ... He can turn a short run into a long run in a hurry."

Kind of like the way Ortiz can make a fastball disappear quick.

"He's just like me, at any given time, he can take one and it's gone," Maroney said. "It's like, 'Do you want to pitch to him?' Just like it's like, 'Do you want to give me an open hole?' You give me an open hole I'm going to take it and run with it, just like if you give him a pitch to hit he's going to take it out the park."

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