FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – With Tom Brady’s throwing skills, running the ball can seem like an afterthought for the Patriots.

It appeared they forgot all about it last Sunday night for much of their 11th win in an unbeaten season.

So even though Baltimore has the third stingiest run defense in the NFL, New England is bound to rely on the ground game Monday night more than it did in its 31-28 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Patriots called just one running play in the first half and finished with 16 runs and 54 passes.

“We had the ball three times in the first half,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We took it down the field and scored three touchdowns every time. One of them got called back. We were in a proactive mode, we were moving the ball, (so we) stayed with it.”

The first run was a 12-yard gain by Brady, who dropped back to pass but had to scramble up the middle.

The Patriots finally called a running play on first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 1:38 left in the first quarter. Heath Evans powered across for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

It may have been the first time Evans was on a team that ran 28 of 29 plays in the first half out of a shotgun formation.

“Being a running back, I would never want to be on one,” he said, “but now that I’m here, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Laurence Maroney, the Patriots’ leading rusher, didn’t play at all in the first half. He finally ran with the ball nearly four minutes into the third quarter – and lost a yard.

He said he didn’t know why he waited so long to play.

“I’d like to do a lot of things more,” Maroney said, “but they don’t need it from me right now. Like I say all the time, my time is coming.”

As a rookie first-round draft choice out of Minnesota, Maroney shared time with Corey Dillon and rushed 175 times for 745 yards last season. Dillon led the team with 199 carries and 812 yards.

This season, Maroney and Sammy Morris shared the job until Morris sustained a season-ending chest injury in the sixth game. Kevin Faulk, who has played a lot in a receiving role, wasn’t on the injury report Friday after missing practice the previous two days with a thigh problem.

The 16 runs against the Eagles were the Patriots’ fewest in 23 games, including last season’s playoffs. And those plays gained just 48 yards.

But they still have the eighth most running plays in the league this year since they’ve been able to run the ball more in nine blowout victories.

The Patriots have rushed for more than 100 yards eight times this season, but the Ravens have allowed an average of 77.9 on the ground.

“I think they have the ability to be as balanced as they want to be. They’re going in and doing whatever they think they have to do to move the ball,” Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. “They’re capable, if that fit the game plan, to come out and run the ball 50 times, too.”

The Patriots know that their best chance of picking up yards is by Brady throwing to Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth and other receivers.

The Ravens (4-7) have lost their last five games and allowed at least 32 points in three of them. But it can be tough to move the ball against safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ray Lewis and other defenders.

“They challenge you in a lot of ways,” Brady said. “They have very athletic pass-rushers. They have a bunch of different packages that they run with different types of (defensive) lineman that have different abilities. Some rush the passer. Some play the run really well.”

The Patriots do what they think works best, even if it violates the traditional belief that a successful offense is a balanced one.

This season, they’ve thrown 400 passes and run 332 times. That discrepancy is greater than they had in their entire regular season last year – 527 passes and 499 yards.

Would Belichick like to see more balance?

“Would I like to see us score touchdowns when we have the ball?” he answered. “Yeah. That’s what I’d like to see. That’s what the offense is out there for, is to score touchdowns, to score points. That’s the only reason they go on the field, to score points.”

AP-ES-11-30-07 1806EST


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