Curran: When it mattered, reliable Faulk was ready

Curran: When it mattered, reliable Faulk was ready
June 12, 2012, 4:00 am
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Among active NFL players, Kevin Faulk is 25th in rushing attempts, 26th in receptions, 27th in yards from scrimmage and 10th in all-purpose yards.

Hes 99th in NFL history in terms of career touches and chances are hell drop to 100th on September 9 when the Vikings Adrian Peterson gets his 18th touch in Minnesotas season opener.

Faulk hopes his NFL career isnt over but, at 36, it probably is. The Patriots roster has running backs stacked up like firewood and the unsigned Faulk is going to be hard-pressed to unseat any of them. He wont sign anywhere else.

Faulks final career numbers will paint him as a very good utility back. The punt returns, catches out of the backfield, kickoff returns and rushing attempts all stacked together makes it look like Faulk was a real nice player.

But he has been more than that. And before the Patriots fully flip to preparing for 2012, closing the book on 2011 means also closing the book on Kevin Faulk, the most successful third-down back in NFL history.

Greatest doesnt fit. Neither does most explosive or most versatile. All those things are too subjective. But when one says successful, measurables are entered into the conversation. Statistics. Championships. Years served.

And those are the things that set Faulk apart from the other electrifying players who served in similar roles.

You talk about a guy who can perform under pressure and Kevin Faulk is at the top of the list, Tom Brady told me last week. Seems to me when you measure great players its when the going gets tough. The mental toughness, the ability to persevere. Kevin worked his tail off. He was always undersized, he was always a guy that people said couldnt be (an impact) player. He had opportunities. He had opportunities taken away from him. But he never pointed the finger at anyone else. He worked harder and put himself back in a position to be effective.

There are a lot of brilliant third-down backs (multi-purpose ballhandlers might fit better but seven syllables are too many to bother with) in recent NFL history. Nobody caught the ball better than Larry Center. Nobody returned punts better than Dave Meggett, except perhaps Eric Metcalf. Darren Sproles might be one of the best players in the NFL. And nobody ever talks about Brian Mitchell. Then theres Leon Washington and Josh Cribbs, and even Faulks understudy Danny Woodhead.

What sets Faulk apart from all of those guys, though, is his longevity and his championships. Only Meggett played in close to as many games of import. And he was never the full-on offensive focal point Faulk was when the Patriots needed plays made.

I get chills thinking about Kevin and thinking about the plays hes made over the course of his career, said Brady. The moments against the best players in the biggest games."

Faulk entered the NFL in 1999, the 46th pick (18 after Andy Katzenmoyer) in Pete Carrolls final draft.

He didnt get many touches as a rookie. In Charlie Weis offense the next year, Faulk got touches but had drops (six fumbles in 2000). Many Sundays especially early in the 2000 season felt like the final Sunday for Faulk with the Patriots.

But Faulk worked extremely hard to correct the problem and went from being unreliable to the most reliable.

By his fourth season, Faulk was comfortable.

There was nobody nobody that was more clutch than Kevin Faulk, said Brady. He grew so much over the course of 02, 03, 04 and became one of the most productive players at that position in NFL history.

Looking at Faulks playoff numbers bears that out.

In the 2003 playoffs, he had 14 carries for 72 yards and eight catches for 58. He had 22 for 114 running the ball in the 2004 playoffs three catches for 38 yards as the Patriots beat the Eagles.

Faulk wouldnt take over a game as much as he would serve as the Patriots silent assassin. When the normal stuff wasnt working Corey Dillon, Troy Brown Deion Branch; Randy Moss or Wes Welker the Patriots would scheme something for Faulk because they knew his reliability. He would be where he needed to be and he could improvise and create once he got the ball.

Ross Tucker was an offensive lineman with the Patriots in 2005 and 2006. Now an analyst for SIRIUS XM-Radio, Tucker maintains that Faulk is the best third-down back ever.

It honestly seemed like, in a big playoff game or a big regular season game, when it got to third down, Id be like, Well, theyre gonna throw it to Kevin for 4 yards, hell make two guys miss and dive forward to get the first down, Tucker explained. He was ridiculously clutch. He could pass protect, he could carry the ball. He was outstanding out of the backfield.

I think the one thing I would say is, when you think of Bill Belichick, his big thing is for every player to have a role, Tucker continued. Each guy has a role and your role will be what you make it. And Im not sure you just stop at saying Kevin Faulk is the best third down back ever in league history. I think on a team of role players, Kevin was the greatest role player in Patriots history and maybe one of the greatest role players in NFL history. His role was third down back and he was the best that ever did it.

Tucker has respect for the other players who filled similar roles for their teams.

Larry Centers has ridiculous numbers of catches on several teams but its when Kevin did it, Tucker argued. Thats the big thing. Now it feels like, third-and-7, they throw it to Wes Welker and he dives for the first down. It just seemed like Kevin for years and years, was that guy. Especially in the playoffs. Especially when it mattered the most.

There were a lot of times we didnt even have backs and he was the last one standing and he took us to victory, said Vince Wilfork. Big game player. Versatile. He can run punts, kickoffs, whatever you needed him to do. Hes a team player and a helluva leader.

Faulks future will become official one way or the other in the coming weeks. League-wide, the end of the line will be a note. It is, after all, a bit of a fait accompli. But it will mark an end of an era when Faulk leaves the final Patriot that predates Bill Belichick, the touchstone of professionalism for so many dozens of teammates.

Hell truly be missed by me as a personal friend and as a teammate, said Wilfork. Hes meant a lot to this organization. At that position, hes one of the best ever.

Added Brady, I dont know whats happening with his career but I love him. I love him like a brother and there was so much trust that I developed in him because of his ability to perform under pressure.