Despite the team's unprecedented Tom Brady and Randy Moss led passing attack, sooner or later the 11-0 AFC East champion Patriots may actually have to run the ball to find overall offensive success. Maybe.
The Patriots play all their remaining games on the march toward the mythical 16-0 season in the temperamental December weather of the northeast. New England travels to Baltimore next Monday night for a meeting with the offensively challenged Ravens leading to a three-game home stand at Gillette Stadium against the Steelers, Jets and Dolphins before closing things out against the Giants in East Rutherford on Dec. 29.
And as it stands the postseason in the AFC clearly will go through Foxborough.
Any or all the games could include wind, snow, cold or any of the other many misfortunes that can fall on late season action.
Coach Bill Belichick said during the bye week that his team "can run the ball" and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels similarly believes the Patriots' attack can turn to the ground if or when that becomes more necessary.
"I think a lot of what we do is dictated by what the other team does. If they determine that they want to force us to throw the ball more than run it, or vice versa, then we're certainly willing to do either," McDaniels said. "If they want to try to drop a lot of people out of there and force us to run it more, then that's what we're going to do. It's built into our offensive system and that's what we would do to try to win the game and vice versa. If they try to come after us and pressure us, or put more people down in the box, then, obviously, we're going to throw it more. Our balance is something that we try to really keep an eye on, but I think it, more importantly, is what's going to help us win or what's going to make us successful on that individual play or that series or drive and that's kind of where we want to be."
The poster child for criticism, concern and uncertainty surrounding the Patriots' running game is second-year running back Laurence Maroney. After battling a trio of injuries while splitting time with Corey Dillon last season, Maroney missed three games this fall with a groin injury.
Heading into Sunday night's 31-28 win over the Eagles, Maroney had carried just 95 times for 436 yards, not reaching the end zone for his only score until Nov. 18. Things hit rock bottom when Maroney never stepped on the field in the first half against Philly and didn't record his first carry until the 11 minute mark of the third quarter as the Patriots spent most of the action in spread, pass-first formations. Maroney finished with 10 second-half carries for just 31 yards, although he did find the end zone for the second straight week.
Regardless of the injuries and limited carries, McDaniels still claims complete faith in Maroney and his ability to carry the load.
"I think Laurence has played well. There are things, just like anyone, that all of them could do better, but Laurence is playing well," McDaniels said. "I think maybe the amount he's played in certain games may make it seem like that's not the case, but it is. He's being productive when he's in there. When he's in there, we're happy with him. He's doing a good job."
Sooner or later, though Maroney may have to find the production to go with his coach's praise.
"I think that as the weather gets worse and I know that we play on the East coast basically for the rest of the regular season so we're going to have to see how the weather plays," McDaniels said. "But obviously if we get into some conditions that don't enable us to throw the ball as much, then the running game will have to become more of a focal point, but we'll try to go in each week with a plan for that and we're to looking to throw the ball unless there's some significant wind issues or other precipitation that determines we can't do it, we'll try to keep our balance the way that we have through the first 10 games so we'll see if we can stay that way for the rest of the season."