- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Laurence Maroney put his head down and thought he had capped off a successful scoring drive with a powerful surge early in Sunday's 35-7 win over the Jaguars. But after officials instead ruled he had lost a fumble, Maroney soon realized his day was over. He had been benched.
Now the question is what role he might play for the Patriots in the playoffs.
"I feel like this year has been such a roller coaster for me -- up and down, up and down -- and I don't really know where it's going to go; I really don't have any clue," Maroney said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. "But no matter which direction it's going to go, I'm always going to be prepared. You can count on that."
Maroney has had plenty of time to replay the fumble in his mind -- first on the sideline Sunday, then for the past three days.
"I thought I was over the line, but like I say, that's one of those things that you can't point the finger at anybody but yourself," he said. "I have to be more careful with the ball. If I didn't fumble, I still would have been playing. I was looking down and thought I clearly crossed, but hey, it's one of those you just have to suck up.
"You're in the pile and I thought I crossed it, but it's one of those where you have to come out of the pile with the ball because they really can't see. It's a judgment call, and you really can't tell. I believe if I would have come up with the ball, it would have been a touchdown, but since it was a fumble, now it's a big controversy.
"I can't point the finger at anybody but myself. When it's all said and done, I have to be more responsible with the ball."
The lost fumble was Maroney's fourth of the season and his second that came as the Patriots were marching in for a touchdown. Considering that he had lost just one fumble in his three previous NFL seasons, it's an issue that has come from well outside the hashmarks.
After losing fumbles in three consecutive November games -- against the Colts, Jets and Saints -- Maroney had explained that he was too comfortable and not protecting the ball enough as he was about to hit the ground. Those problems seemed to be corrected in the next three games before resurfacing Sunday against the Jaguars.
"I'm an athlete and a ballplayer, and any athlete is going to feel bad because you want to help out. Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to go back out there and help the team, but the best way I could help the team after that was supporting them," he said.
"Whether I played out there or not, I still supported my team, just to show you what type of character I have. In a situation like that, I don't think a lot of people would have been into the game, but I was into the game mentally and stayed focused, and helped the other backs out. You stay mature the whole time and just cheer the team on to victory. Like I always say, I just want to help the team win whether I play or not."
If he felt the benching was too harsh, 24-year-old Maroney wasn't saying, merely noting that he is in a good place physically and mentally.
"The good thing about being a player, I'm not a coach, so I don't make decisions. I just play. That was the decision coach made, and I just have to deal with it," he said. "If he wants to take me out for the whole game, that's his decision. I can't really complain about it. I did fumble. I'm not condoning fumbling, but it is what it is. You have to live with it and you just move on."
Maroney's ball-security issues have left some to wonder whether the Patriots will move more in the direction of Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor at running back, which is what they did Sunday with Taylor suiting up for the first time since undergoing ankle surgery Oct. 8.
Yet Maroney is hoping his body of work to this point doesn't leave him on the outside looking in. He had been a workhorse of late, stepping up in a depleted backfield with some of the hardest, most decisive running of his Patriots career.
"I felt like the last nine weeks, when they called on me, I showed up," he said. "I think I ran the way they wanted me to run: hard, physical, made plays, scored for them. I don't think it is one of those things where I have to necessarily build confidence back in them. I just have to hold on to the ball.
"My approach is to be ready. I feel like even though I sat out the whole game, it's going to come back. When it does, I have to keep doing what I have been doing -- running hard."
22hMel Kiper Jr.
2dEric D. Williams