Sunday, October 4, 2009

Morris a key outlet for Brady

Neither Randy Moss nor Ed Reed had much to do with the outcome of Sunday's 27-21 win for the Patriots, a key victory given that both teams could be jockeying for rungs in the playoff ladder a couple of months from now.

Moss caught a third-quarter touchdown pass but otherwise was a nonfactor, his three catches representing a season low. Reed had five tackles but recorded no interceptions or pass break-ups.

The two effectively neutralized each other. Reed covered Moss, and the Patriots didn't throw the ball in that direction.

"They played a lot of coverage over Randy, like we expected, with Reed over the top," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They took a lot of those plays away. We had to go to other options -- and we got good production from our backs, our tight ends and some of the other receivers."

One of the primary options was Sammy Morris.

Morris a year ago led the Patriots in carries by a wide margin -- he had almost as many carries as Kevin Faulk and Lamont Jordan put together -- but he went into Sunday's game with only two more rushes this season than quarterback Tom Brady:

1. Fred Taylor, 38 carries for 176 yards
2. Laurence Maroney, 20 carries for 72 yards
3. Kevin Faulk, 11 carries for 40 yards
4. Morris, 7 carries for 20 yards

What Morris has done, though, is play fullback in the 'I'-formation in front of the Patriots' other tailbacks, his 220-pound frame more than enough to lay a hit on a linebacker coming up to fill a gap.

And on Sunday, he did just about everything.

Morris still played some fullback in the 'I'-formation, blocking in front of Maroney on the Patriots' second play of the game. But he did just about everything else, too -- from carrying the ball to splitting out wide and catching passes.

He had a key fourth-and-2 run at the end of the first quarter, taking a handoff as a fullback blasting through a gap and knocking Ray Lewis backwards for two yards. (Brady ran the ball into the end zone two plays later.) Morris then ran a draw play as the tailback in the shotgun, taking a handoff from Brady and dodging safety Dawan Landry en route to a 12-yard touchdown run.

But his most impressive play of the afternoon might have come on an otherwise routine second-and-11 snap early in the fourth quarter. Morris split way wide as the fifth receiver in a five-receiver set, and Brady threw one of the Patriots' signature bubble screens his way. Not only did Morris catch the pass, but he dragged nose tackle Brandon McKinney and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo down the field for a 14-yard again.

Morris finished the day with 56 total yards -- 21 on the ground and 35 through the air -- on top of his regular blocking duties as a fullback. No Patriots player -- not even Moss, not even Maroney, not even Taylor and not even Wes Welker -- finished with more yards from scrimmage than Morris.

"We definitely want to get back to using a lot of personnel groups, spreading the ball, getting a lot of people involved," tight end Ben Watson said. "That's sometimes when we're at our best -- when there's a lot of people involved in the game plan."

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