FOXBORO, MA — It’s been a few years since a running back named Curtis Martin departed to New York, but barring another beach football game or any other such disaster they may have finally found an adequate replacement.
Former Buffalo Bills running back Antowain Smith has been a breath of fresh air for Patriots fans who are finally beginning to get a look at what appears to be a running game in New England. The 29-year old Smith has started nine games this season and has been impressive, especially considering what New England had accomplished prior to this year.
How much better has he been?
Last season New England running backs Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond each finished with fewer yards all year than Smith has through 9-games. Faulk led the team with 570-yards last year while J.R. Redmond was second on the team with 406. Redmond scored a touchdown only once last year while Faulk crossed the goal line 4 times. Through nine games Smith has accumulated 574-yards on 148 carries (3.9 avg) and has scored 6-touchdowns, more than both backs did all season last year.
Smith saw limited action through the first two games of the season while Belichick gave J.R. Redmond a chance to earn a spot in the line-up, and also struggled while the Patriots worked with an entirely new cast up front from last season. Other than Damien Woody New England had quite a few new faces trying to open holes up for Smith, and during the first two games he had limited success.
But he gained steam in game three when rookie Tom Brady got his first professional start after Drew Bledsoe went down with a chest injury where he suffered internal bleeding, and finally, Smith saw more of a commitment to the running game by the coaching staff. He carried the ball 22 times for 94-yards against the Colts and scored two touchdowns in an impressive 44-13 beating in Foxboro. It was the first game that Smith had carried the ball consistently, with Kevin Faulk coming in on third down to mix things up.
It appears now he may be finally hitting his stride.
The last two weeks Smith has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back weeks and as a result, the Patriots have won the football game. Smith rushed for 117-yards last week against Atlanta and 100-yards in Sunday’s victory over the Buffalo Bills. New England’s offensive line is opening holes for him to run the ball, but it’s been Smith’s ability to break tackles and gain the extra yard that has made him so impressive. Many wondered when he was first signed if he could become the 1000-yard rusher that he had shown he had the ability to be, and it appears he’s on his way.
If Smith is able to continue to improve and become the featured back New England has been missing these last few years, it may allow them to begin their journey back to the postseason. They got there with guys like Curtis Martin and Robert Edwards and hopefully, they’re able to do the same with Smith.
Patriots fans have had their hearts broken in the past thanks to running backs who have left them. Those broken hearts would heal in a hurry with post season success.
Thanks to Smith, for now, they have a reason to believe it’s possible.
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season