By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO On Sunday, BenJarvus Green-Ellis became the 11th Patriot to run for more than 1,000 yards.
Now, lets play "one of these things is not like the others."
Antowain Smith, Robert Edwards, Leonard Russell, John Stephens and Sam Cunningham were first-round NFL picks. Jim Nance and Craig James were first-rounders in the AFL and USFL, respectively. Tony Collins and Corey Dillon were second-rounders. And Curtis Martin was a third-rounder.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis? Wasn't even drafted. And while 1,000 rushing yards isn't what it was when Cunningham was doing it in a 14-game season it's just 62.5 yards per game, for cry-eye Green-Ellis hitting that milestone was striking a blow for the legions of overlooked and underloved players that have made the Patriots great in the past and this year as well.
By the time he got to the podium after the game, Bill Belichick's poker face was perfectly in place and he said stoically that he cared not a bit for individual records set in Sunday's 38-7 beatdown.
Green-Ellis needed 72 yards to get to 1,000. He carried 20 times for 80 yards including 11 times on 15 plays in the third and fourth quarters until on a fourth-and-16 he picked up the yardage necessary.
When he headed to the bench, he veered off and sought out Belichick. There was no chest bump or long, drawn out embrace. There was a handshake. A quick hug. And then Green-Ellis met a cavalcade of well-wishers on the bench.
Again, it must be said that 1,000 yards would be a hugely disappointing season for guys who live in the "elite back" category. The guys who don't just get drafted, but go in the first round. It's the road Green-Ellis traveled a road teammates like Kyle Arrington, Rob Ninkovich, Dane Fletcher, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Eric Moore, Dan Koppen, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Tom Brady know well that makes them so proud of him. And makes him want to share it with them.
"It's not really an individual accomplishment," said Green-Ellis. "For one person to say that they got 1,000 yards by themselves, they would be lying to you."
Green-Ellis is talking about the linemen, tight ends and wideouts who do the blocking. And the coaches who design the plays and the quarterback whose arm must be respected. And he's talking, no doubt, about the counsel he gets from teammates.
Like Fred Taylor, who's run for 1,000 or more yards seven times in his terrific career. During training camp, when I asked him about the limited role of Laurence Maroney, Taylor specifically said to "watch out for BenJarvus Green-Ellis." He's been a mentor to Green-Ellis but he refused a large share of credit Sunday.
"I don't want to take away his shine," said Taylor. "He works as hard as anyone without me grabbing him and saying, 'Hey, let's do this.' He's my motivation. The truth of it is, we have our days where we just don't feel like it. You roll out of bed and you're like, 'Aww, man.' But when I think of him, he's grabbing me to do extra abs or an extra set in the weight room or extra sprints. We kind of vibe off each other. But he works his ass off. He's been patiently waiting and he just wants it."
For the Patriots to go 14-2 this year, a lot of guys whod been patiently waiting needed to elevate their play. A lot of retreads and never-wasses. Green-Ellis' accomplishment was a concrete number, the 1,000-yard carry a moment to celebrate. But that's only because you cant celebrate the mere presence of a guy like Moore, a pass rusher who was in the UFL a month ago.
"You got to tip your hat to the coach for that," Taylor said when discussing the kind of unheralded players New England's made use of this year. "He sees something in these players other people don't see. Look at Eric Moore. He just came from the UFL. You should have seen the picture of the lockers from their championship game. That's humbling.
"These guys get here and buy into what's going on around here and the leaders take hold of them, then they're ready to go," said Taylor. "These are memories running backs coach Ivan Fears was talking about Saturday night. Benny'll never forget it. I had to remind him, make sure you keep your gloves and everything else . . . These memories are priceless."