Patriots' handyman trips Rams
Monday, October 27, 2008
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Short-handed but sure-handed, the New England Patriots grabbed another win.
Kevin Faulk grasped a 15-yard touchdown pass just inbounds with 3:13 left -- holding onto the ball despite being hit by St. Louis linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa -- and the Patriots had their go-ahead touchdown.
Deltha O'Neal pulled in another ball on a juggling interception with 1:08 remaining and the Patriots rallied for a 23-16 win Sunday.
Inconsistent most of the day without three sidelined running backs, the Patriots (5-2) held on when it mattered most, winning a tight game six days after routing Denver 41-7. The Rams (2-5) played without injured running back Steven Jackson and lost for the first time since Jim Haslett succeeded the fired Scott Linehan after an 0-4 start.
"We're behind in the fourth quarter and it was up to us to come back in the face of a little adversity," Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel said. "There's going to be, I'm sure, a lot of [tight games] down the road."
And, barring still another injury to a depleted backfield, Faulk will be there to help.
In his 10th season, all with the Patriots, Faulk has come through in many roles -- runner, receiver, returner and old reliable.
"It seems like you can always count on Kevin, no matter what phase of the game it's in," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "Whatever he can do to help us win, he'd do -- mop the floors, he'd mop them."
The Patriots' best pass-catching running back held onto Cassel's TD pass on the left edge of the end zone. Two receptions by Randy Moss gained 26 yards and set up the winning touchdown.
"That's something I learned from Randy," Faulk said, "not sticking your hands out early, letting the ball come to you, right in the breadbasket."
Faulk shouldered a bigger running load than usual with Laurence Maroney out for the season and the top two backups in the ground game, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan, sidelined. But Faulk did what he does best -- catch the ball-- just in time.
"He is going to make catches where most people wouldn't even touch the ball," fullback Heath Evans said.
Until then, St. Louis' Josh Brown and New England's Stephen Gostkowski each kicked three field goals. BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2-yard run on the Patriots' first possession had given them a 7-3 lead. Then the Rams went ahead 10-7 on a 69-yard pass play from Marc Bulger to Donnie Avery.
"The numbers don't count if you can't get the win," said Avery, a rookie who also had receptions of 35 and 44 yards.
The 69-yarder was the longest pass play of Bulger's career, 2 yards more than his hookup with Torry Holt on Oct. 15, 2006, against Seattle.
"Four weeks ago, we would have looked at this game as a win" because it was close, Bulger said, "but we're disappointed."
The Rams couldn't overcome the absence of Jackson, their leading rusher and receiver who missed the game with a strained right thigh muscle. And defensive end Leonard Little left in the first half with a hamstring injury.
"They had excellent field position all day and we didn't," Haslett said.
Faulk led the Patriots with 60 yards on 13 carries and added four receptions for 47 yards. Cassel was 21-for-33 for a career-high 267 yards as the replacement for Tom Brady.
The winning drive began at the Patriots 47 after a punt. Cassel was sacked for an 8-yard loss by rookie Chris Long on the first play. But then he connected with Moss for gains of 23 and 3 yards before a 7-yard run by Faulk gave the Patriots a first down at the Rams 28.
Cassel threw an 8-yard completion to Moss and Faulk ran 5 yards before Cassel lofted the winning throw into Faulk's hands.
"We knew we had to play perfect, and we didn't play perfect," Tinoisamoa said. "Cassel made a great throw. Faulk made a great catch."