Maroney runs out of time

197883.jpg

Maroney runs out of time

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Ive got a pretty clear memory of the first drive of Laurence Maroneys career.

It was Week 1 of the 2006 season, against the Bills, and thanks to the mess that is Gillette security, I was a little late getting into the stadium.

I was actually still running through the concourse during the kick off, but thankfully got to my seats, grossly out breath, just in time for the first snap of the season. Just in time to see Tom Brady get drilled by Takeo Spikes, the ball hit the ground, London Fletcher pick it up and the Bills go up 7-0. It also didnt help that at this point I was basically dry-heaving from my 30-second sprint.

Anyway, the offense comes back onto the field, and on the fourth play from scrimmage (confession: I had to look that part up), No. 39 trots into the huddle. Hes built more like a strong safety than a running back. He has Whoopi Goldberg dreadlocks hanging out the back of his helmet. He takes that first carry and bursts up the middle.

And this wasnt just any burst. This was like dropping Mentos into a two-liter bottle of Coke burst. It was an explosion. He broke through the middle, picking up speed as he went, inviting contact, destroying anything in his path. Twenty-seven yards later he was finally pushed out of bounds.

I started laughing.

Two plays later, and its third-and-five; Brady's in the shotgun and No. 39's back in the game. This time he takes the ball on a draw, runs off-guard and into daylight. Twenty-two yards later and New England not only had its running back of the future, but its future, in general.

Again, I started laughing. And this wasnt just a little chuckle. It was hilarious, borderline maniacal laughter. I couldnt believe that this was the Patriots' new running back. That this high-speed, 220-pound bull dozer was now in New England. How great was this going to be? I was in awe. I was giddy.

Typically, you wouldnt jump to such conclusions after the first two carries of an NFL career. But back in 2006, it was easy. Back then, if you were the first pick of the New England Patriots, you were going to be somebody. Before Maroney, the Pats had selected (in reverse order) Logan Mankins, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Daniel Graham and Richard Seymour with their first pick. So when Maroney went No. 21 in 2006, we were ready for the next star, and it wouldnt take much convincing. Two carries for 49 yards just about did the trick.

And it wasn't just the yards, it was also how he got them. Like I mentioned, the guy loved contact. He got more joy out of stiff-arming a cornerback into the ground than breaking ankles with a juke move (although he could do that, too). With every step, he became fast and harder to take down. He had an unmatched determination, one that would leave him primed to lead the rushing attack once Corey Dillon hung them up.

And it didn't hurt that he had a personality to match. He had the braids. He had more bling inside his mouth than Bill Russell has on his fingers. He had an amazing nickname: Kool Aid, and wore a Kool Aid Man chain the size of Wes Welker around his neck. He was just cool. Ridiculous cool.

The first year played out pretty much as planned. Of course he didnt average 20 yards a carry, but he showed us he was ready. He was the perfect compliment to Dillon, a beast in the return game, and gave us no reason to worry about his future.

In 2007, he was the lead back in the greatest offense in NFL history. He played in 13 games, ran for 885 yards, six touchdowns, and didnt fumble once. In all honesty, we probably expected a little more out of him that second season, but how could you find fault in the Patriots offense? How could Maroney have really made them any better than they were? As the Pats moved into playoff mode, Maroney followed suit, with back-to-back, bruising 125-yard games in wins over the Jaguar and Chargers. His Super Bowl performance was forgettable, but, hey, so was that whole Super Bowl.

This time, 2008 was supposed to be the year he made it, until a shoulder injury ended "it" after three games. Meanwhile, by this time, a trio of running backs who were drafted behind Maroney were leaving their mark on the league. Deangelo Williams (drafted five spots after) ran for 1,500 yard and an NFL-leading 18 touchdowns. Joseph Addai (drafted nine spots after) was slightly off in 2008, but had already amassed two 1,000-yard seasons and a Super Bowl ring. Maurice Jones Drew (drafted 39 spots after) had scored a combined 40 touchdowns by the time his third season was over, and was even better in 2009. Theyd all graduated to the upper echelon of NFL running backs, but the Kool Aid Man was still stuck in 10th grade. He just couldnt get it right. He never joined the rest of the class.

Thats not to say that Maroney didnt have his chances. Sure, he was never handed the role of "featured back," but he was given every opportunity to earn it. Partly because he was a first-round pick, and you want to give those guys every chance in the world to prove their worth. But it was also because the Patriots still believed that he might turn it around. They saw the same potential we all did. The potential was unquestionable (unlike the man himself, who seemed to always be listed as questionable).

If he could just put it all together, then . . .

Then, I dont know.

Well never know. At least not here in New England. At least not the way we all envisioned it would be, with Laurence Maroney bridging the gap to another chapter of the Patriots Dynasty and with that beastly figure and those Whoopi Goldberg braids becoming a fixture in the Gillette Stadium end zone.

Its the end of an era. The "God, whens Maroney finally going to figure this out?" Era.

In a way, its a relief. But you also have to feel bad that he'll probably never reach the expectations we once dreamed of. And maybe a little stupid, or at least I do, for jumping to such lofty conclusions in the first place.

Blame it injuries. Blame it on Belichick. Blame it on whatever.

I'll blame it on the most memorable first two touches in Patriots history. It was only downhill from there.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Syracuse uses late 99-yard drive to beat UConn, 31-24

syracuse_uconn.jpg

Syracuse uses late 99-yard drive to beat UConn, 31-24

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Syracuse receiver Amba Etta-Tawo is making the most of his final year of college eligibility.

The graduate transfer from Maryland caught 12 passes for a school-record 270 yards and two touchdowns and the Orange beat UConn 31-24 on Saturday to snap a two-game losing skid.

Etta-Tawo scored twice in the game's first five minutes on touchdown receptions of 57 and 30 yards. His 59-yard catch from the shadow of his team's goal line highlighted a 12-play 99-yard fourth-quarter drive that put the game away for the Orange (2-2).

It was his fourth straight game with at least 100 yards receiving.

"It goes back to chemistry with the quarterback and the coaches trusting me," Etta-Tawo said. "They trust that I'll make the plays and they keep on giving me opportunities to make the plays."

Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey completed 26 of 40 passes for 407 yards and those two scores. He also scored on a 6-yard run to complete the length-of the field drive.

"We had to do it," said Etta-Tawo. "We had to drive down the field and try to put the game out, and that's exactly what we did. Everybody dug in, dug a little deeper."

Noel Thomas had 14 receptions for 111 yards for UConn (2-2). Huskies running back Arkeel Newsome ran for 81 yards and a touchdown.

It took Syracuse just 51 seconds on its first drive and 92 seconds on its second for Dungey and Etta-Tawo to make it 14-0. Etta-Tawo had five catches for 115 yards in the first quarter.

"I think he's already passed his previous career high as a collegian in the first four games with us, (more than) his whole entire career he had at the other school," coach Dino Babers said. "I think, if you asked him, I think he might have made a good choice (to transfer)."

The Huskies responded by scoring twice in the second quarter and for the second straight week, the Orange couldn't hold the early double-digit lead.

"We can't just go up 14-0, 17-0 in the beginning of the game and then put ourselves back in a dog fight," said linebacker Zaire Franklin, who was in on 14 tackles. "Some of these games we've got to have it over by the beginning of the second quarter."

Cordell Hudson pickup off a tipped pass from UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and ran 22-yards down the left sideline for a touchdown that gave the Orange a 24-17 lead. It was just the second interception for the Orange this season.

The Huskies had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter after holder Tyler Davis, a former high school quarterback, hit tight end Tommy Myers with a 17-yard pass on a fake field goal to set the Huskies up at the Syracuse 8-yard line.

But Syracuse's defense held, and linebacker Franklin stopped Shirreffs on a fourth-and goal from the 2-yard line with just over 6 minutes left. The Orange marched the length of the field to put the game away.

"Going back, I would probably buy some more time and throw it to the back of the end zone," said Shirreffs, who threw a 24-yard touchdown to Davis with 33 seconds left to make the final score close. "I came up short. The linebacker made a good play and I didn't."