'Homecoming'; Bolts must respect the run.


Byline: Jennifer Toland

FOXBORO - Laurence Maroney had just finished playing a game of dominoes - a favorite pastime in the Patriots locker room - when he turned back toward his locker and laughed.

Awaiting him there was a healthy horde of reporters, eager to get his take on another game - Sunday's AFC Championship against the Chargers.

"We feel good about ourselves," Maroney said after working his way into the middle of the crowd, "but we're not overconfident. We know we have to play a great game."

Maroney played one of the best games of his brief career last Saturday night against the Jaguars. In the Patriots' 31-20 victory, he carried 22 times for 122 yards and, it seemed, did it with conviction.

"I do have the power," Maroney said. "You just have to know when to use it and when not to use it, and what type of game it's going to be. That was a physical, downhill game that deserved a downhill running style."

Maroney had a quiet start to the season, was criticized for "dancing" too much behind the line of scrimmage, and his durability came into question after he missed three games with a groin injury.

Still, the Patriots' second-year running back kept his confidence, Heath Evans said, displayed maturity, Kevin Faulk added, and has remained good-natured. Yesterday he even joked about his "tap-dancing shoes."

Maroney, who shared the carries during his rookie season with Corey Dillon, was expected to take on more of a lead back role this season, but that didn't happen in the Patriots' pass-first offense. Maroney averaged 10 carries and 39 yards in games 7 through 13 - he didn't even play in the first half against the Eagles - but he said all along that when the Patriots needed him, he'd be ready.

Maroney has rushed for 100 or more yards in three of the last four games.

"He played a great game last weekend and I think he has played really well down the stretch," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He's been in and out a little bit this year, and he's finding his rhythm now. It's an important time of the year to do that when the weather is colder and it's a little more challenging to throw the ball. Especially with the threats I think that we have on the outside of the field, Laurence can really take advantage when we get those one-on-one matchups in the run game."

During the season, the Patriots threw the ball 586 times and ran it 451. In last week's playoff win, they had 28 passes, 29 runs. The record-setting passing attack was so explosive and so...

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