FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Kevin Faulk catches passes, returns punts and doesn’t complain.

When the 5-foot-8 all-purpose back enters the game, he and his Patriots teammates are confident he’ll succeed at his job – even if it’s blocking blitzers like Brian Urlacher who weigh 60 pounds more.

Even though he learned early after leaving Louisiana State for the Patriots that he wouldn’t be an every-down back, he keeps working hard instead of whining.

“The only thing I can control is what Kevin Faulk does and, when he gets on the field, execute the play that’s called for,” he said Wednesday.

Faulk has played in the shadow of other runners in his eight NFL seasons, all with New England – Terry Allen, Antowain Smith and now Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. He led the team in rushing just once. In perhaps the team’s biggest game of the year, he didn’t even carry the ball last Sunday against Chicago.

He did, however, block a blitzing Urlacher to enable Tom Brady to complete a 13-yard pass to Troy Brown in the first quarter. He also set a team record for receptions by a running back with 262, one more than Tony Collins.

The record breaker, his sixth catch of the game, came on the fourth-quarter drive that produced the go-ahead touchdown in the Patriots 17-13 win that improved their record to 8-3 before Sunday’s home game against Detroit.

“He’s got a lot of roles and a lot of assignments,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He works hard at them. He’s a very dependable player. He doesn’t make many mistakes.”

He’s done that long enough to help the team win three Super Bowls. And he feels compelled to do well every week, even if he has to block Urlacher, a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

His motivation for putting his 202-pound body in the way?

“Knowing that if you can’t get the job done, you’re not going to be on the field,” Faulk said, “because there’s a lot of blitzes in the game.”

Patriots 250-pound fullback Heath Evans believes Faulk’s blocking surprises people because of his smaller size.

“His power, his great feet, his great hands, allow him to be very successful at it,” Evans said. “Whether it’s Urlacher or Zach Thomas or any number of guys that he’s been successful against this year. He’s always consistent. Very, very rarely do we ever see him missing a block in blitz pickup.”

Faulk also is one of the NFL’s best punt returners. He’s seventh in the league with an 11.0-yard average, the second best of his career.

His 36-yard return, his second longest of the season, set up a touchdown in New England’s 35-0 win at Green Bay one week before the victory over Chicago.

“He’s very professional, well-prepared, smart kid,” Belichick said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a playmaker and we like to see the ball in his hands.”

Dillon and Maroney usually rotate at running back with Faulk coming in on third down. Against Chicago, Faulk filled another role – lining up in the same backfield with Maroney.

“You are trying to get guys on the field who are extremely productive and Laurence and Kevin are very productive,” Brady said. “They have done very well in the passing game all year. Especially Kevin. I guess he broke the record for career receptions by a Patriots running back and that is pretty cool.”

But there was a reminder recently of a brief stretch several years ago when he kept fumbling. In a 27-20 loss to Indianapolis on Nov. 5, Brady’s pass about 10 yards down the middle bounced off his hands and was intercepted in the final two minutes.

But he’s lost only one fumble this season.

Belichick said Faulk worked hard at hanging onto the ball, but Faulk said the key is “just not thinking about it, doing your job and not overemphasizing it.”

He’s been very diligent about learning all his assignments so he plays instinctively.

“I’ve been here so long now, it’s just routine,” Faulk said. “You just do it. You get up, go to work and get it done. You know what’s asked of you.”

And Belichick asks a lot.

“He’s very unselfish,” the coach said. “You can count on him to do his best, really, in every situation.”

AP-ES-11-29-06 1727EST


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