FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The verdict likely won’t be known until Sunday morning, but Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew has a gut feeling Fred Taylor will be back in a New England Patriots uniform during this weekend’s game against the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
“This weekend, Fred and I were talking a little bit,” said Jones-Drew, who was Taylor’s apprentice in Jacksonville for three years. “I asked him if he was going to play, and I didn’t get a response back so I kind of figured it was a ‘yeah.’ It’s going to be exciting.”
Taylor has long had a reputation as one of the great leaders and role models in the NFL, and Jones-Drew might have been the greatest beneficiary of those qualities. The Jaguars snagged Jones-Drew in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft, and it was obvious they hoped he would be Taylor’s eventual replacement. Despite knowing Jones-Drew would someday take his job, Taylor continued to be the ultimate mentor to Jones-Drew, a California kid who had moved thousands of miles away from home.
“You hear all these stories about how veteran players give you the cold shoulder, thinking they brought you in to take their spot, but it was different when I got here,” Jones-Drew said. “Fred came to me with open arms. He said, ‘I’m willing to teach you if you are willing to learn and listen.’ To hear one of the best players at the time — and still, now — say something like that turned our relationship into what it is now.”
The pair combined to be one of the best running back duos in the league for three seasons, but the Jaguars released Taylor last winter when they signed Jones-Drew to a contract extension reportedly worth five years and about $31 million.
The Patriots, in turn, signed Taylor to a deal reportedly worth two years and $5 million. Taylor, who has taken the same mentor role with New England’s running backs, made an impact in the Patriots’ first four games in 2009, carrying the ball 45 times for 201 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. The 33-year-old had his best game in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, rushing 21 times for 105 yards and one score, but he later suffered an ankle injury and has missed the Patriots’ last 10 games.
Taylor has been working out more in recent weeks, and there’s no question he’d love to return Sunday to play against Jacksonville, the team with which he suited up for 11 seasons. Taylor, a potential Hall of Famer, is considered one of the faces — if not the face — of the Jaguars franchise. He also once served as the backbone of Jones-Drew, who is one of the league’s brightest young stars.
Jones-Drew will be on the field Sunday, certainly hoping to put on a show for Taylor. And there is definitely a part of Jones-Drew that wants to see Taylor provide his own highlights. They’ll reunite this weekend either way, and the pair have already planned to work out together in Florida in the offseason. It’s merely the next stage of a friendship that figures to last for years to come.
“When I didn’t have someone to cook for me at home when my parents weren’t out here, [Taylor] would invite me over to his house to come eat and hang out with his family,” Jones-Drew said. “Those things definitely opened my eyes to the man. A lot of people don’t know Fred because he is quiet, but he opened up with me and we talked about everything from football to life, money, to going back to school and graduating, to pretty much everything. He definitely [had] a big impact on my life.”
1. Bill Belichick and his staff implemented a defensive wrinkle with flawless results against the Bills. The Patriots knew they were heading into the game without defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, so they revitalized an old formation that used solely linebackers and defensive backs, who caused pre-snap confusion by hovering around the line of scrimmage while standing up. It worked wonderfully on third down and long-yardage situations, and it helped provide additional rest for the short-staffed defensive linemen.
2. By now, you’ve heard Belichick say Mike Wright played “about as good as a defensive lineman can play” in the game against Buffalo. Along with Jarvis Green, Wright really solidified the defensive line, powered through the backfield and helped the Patriots improve on first and second down. Wright played in multiple positions along the line, showing the versatility that makes him so respected in Belichick’s eyes.
3. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain probably shed a tear when he left Buffalo this week. After all, he’s recorded five of his 8.5 sacks in 2009 in two games against the Bills, including his three-sack performance Sunday. Banta-Cain was the catalyst behind the Patriots’ improved pass rush that totaled six sacks in Buffalo.
4. Wide receiver Randy Moss followed up his poor showing against Carolina with a solid effort against the Bills, hauling in five receptions for 70 yards and one touchdown. Moss also drew a 43-yard pass-interference penalty that set up his touchdown catch, and he probably should have drawn another pass-interference penalty later in the game. Either way, it appears as though we can close the books on EffortGate.
1. When quarterback Tom Brady was throwing to people who weren’t wearing No. 81 on Sunday, he was completely off of his game. Part of that had to do with the Bills’ sound coverage on Wes Welker (a season-low four catches on 11 targets and 40 yards), but the rest raises further questions about Brady’s health. The right ring finger probably isn’t too big of a deal, but the rib injury is definitely something to be concerned about. Brady completed five of the seven passes thrown toward Moss, but he was just 6-of-16 for 45 yards, no touchdowns and one interception while targeting everyone else.
2. Despite the Patriots’ imperfections on Sunday, there really weren’t many poor individual performances. Rookie defensive lineman Ron Brace had a bad opening series and was later flagged for a facemask penalty, but Belichick openly praised Brace’s game on Monday. Linebacker/defensive end Derrick Burgess also had an inexcusable neutral-zone infraction but turned in a good effort otherwise, and safety Brandon Meriweather missed a late fourth-down tackle that could have reduced the amount of drama at the end of the game.
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