Patriots won’t be backing down

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – LaDanian Tomlinson isn’t the only dangerous running back in Sunday’s playoff game in San Diego.

The New England Patriots have three of them and their success could help limit how many yards the NFL’s MVP piles up.

The more Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk can use up time by gaining yards on the ground, the less time the Chargers star might have to do what he did better than any other player this season – run through defenses and into the end zone.

“With that stable of backs, all three of them can do great things back there,” Patriots wide receiver Jabar Gaffney said Thursday.

Their performance last Sunday in a 37-16 playoff win over the Jets kept New York from focusing on stopping the passing game. That helped Gaffney catch eight passes for 104 yards, his best performance since joining the Patriots early in the season.

Maroney rushed for 69 yards, Dillon had 53 and a touchdown and Faulk had consecutive runs of 7, 8 and 9 yards on a 15-play touchdown drive that gave the Patriots a 17-10 lead with 11 seconds left in the first half.

Tomlinson, deservedly so, gets plenty of attention because of his NFL high 1,815 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns, while the Patriots runners get much less. Of course, Dillon rarely speaks to reporters, Maroney is restricted from doing that by coach Bill Belichick because he’s a rookie, and Faulk declined to be interviewed Thursday, although he’s generally accessible.

Still, the Patriots use the trio’s lack of publicity in a week dominated by Tomlinson as fitting into their psychological game plan of not getting enough respect despite winning three of the last five Super Bowls.

“That’s nothing new to us,” cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. “That’s kind off like our M.O. The thing about our running game is we can hit you through so many different ways.”

Dillon is a power runner with 13 touchdowns and 812 yards on the ground, Maroney is elusive and strong with 745 yards rushing, and Faulk is a receiving threat with 43 regular-season catches and a touchdown reception last Sunday against the Jets.

“They all bring another dimension to the game and another difficulty for the defense to stop,” Hobbs said. “We know what we have over here. We don’t need anybody to hype us up.”

Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman did just that with Dillon and Maroney.

“It’s a one-two punch with them,” said Merriman, who led the NFL with 17 sacks. “They are a different style of running back, a little shiftier in the rookie. Dillon is a real vet and he knows how to run the ball and that’s why he’s playing the way he’s playing.”

Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo also knows Tomlinson isn’t the only running threat in the game.

“As good as Tom Brady is, we have to worry about that running game because they have some great running backs,” Castillo said.

Against the Jets, the Patriots had a balanced attack with 158 yards rushing and 200 passing. They ran for more than 100 yards in each of their last four games and were held under that total just six times this season.

Excluding the two games Maroney was sidelined, he led the Patriots in rushing eight times and Dillon six times. The blocking has been solid, especially with the same five linemen starting each of the last eight games.

“There’s continuity there,” Brady said. “When these O-lines are together over the course of the season, (they) can just be very productive, because (they) learn to play together. There is a chemistry that develops.”

The chemistry among the running backs also seems sound even though the emergence of Maroney has taken carries away from Dillon, a 10-year veteran who rushed for a career-high 1,635 yards just two seasons ago, his first with New England.

“Tremendous backs,” Gaffney said. “They get the job done week in and week out.”

AP-ES-01-11-07 1521EST

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