By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- If you were to ask anybody who's watched the Patriots with a keen eye over the last 20 years if Kevin Faulk deserved to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, any observer with any football sense would say with 100 percent certainty that the undersized running back is worthy of the honor.
But the interesting thing about Faulk is that in his 13 years with the Patriots, he established his significance to the team without authoring any one, singular, iconic moment. There was the two-point conversion in Super Bowl XXXVIII that was absolutely, tremendously important. There was the pass to Tom Brady in 2001 in Week 16 when the Patriots clinched a first-round bye.
But the rest all sort of blends together. And even Bill Belichick, who spoke extremely highly of Faulk on Monday, tends to agree.
Interestingly, it was in Belichick's answer when asked for his favorite Faulk moment that the coach explained this phenomenon in great detail. And in the midst of that answer came a very thorough explanation for the infamous fourth-and-2 call in Indianapolis in 2009.
Of course, seven years later, the significance (or lack thereof) of that play is well known. The 2009 Patriots were simply not a championship team, and though a win in Indy that night in Week 10 might have helped, the team met its proper fate in the wild-card round blowout at the hands of the Ravens.
But still, there are certain things about Belichick and his decision-making that remain fascinating, in large part because he keeps so much of the process close to the vest. When he actually does speak at length about particular decisions, like when he slipped in his Mona Lisa Vito press conference and went on a mini-tangent about the ridiculousness of the Spygate charges, he offers a rare glimpse into that Hall of Fame football brain.
So, keep all of that in mind when reading this very long adoring quote of Faulk from Belichick.
There are a lot of them. They were talking about them today. The two-point play against Carolina was a huge play; it was the only time he scored all year. Kevin didn't have a lot of touchdowns, he wasn't a big scorer. He was big on third-down conversions and a returner, more of a situational player. The touchdown against the Jets during the playoff game when they were in an all-out blitz; it was another smart play. We were able to get him out and it was about a 10, 12-yard touchdown, something like that.
One play I remember for sure is the kickoff return he had against us when I was coaching in New York in 1999, his rookie year. He ran it back to about the five-yard line. It was about a 95-yard return or something, so I remember him on both sides.
So many of his plays were just, third-and-six and he got seven, third-and-four and he got five, third-and-three and he got four. He just had a great knack [for making plays], like Troy [Brown] did. [He was] a very instinctive player; had a great knack for playing the game. He always seemed to do the right thing, even if it wasn't a play made, maybe there was no more than what he could get, he got what he could get. He did the right thing, he made the right play. Maybe he was supposed to go out on a pass, he saw somebody come free on a rush, left his pattern to protect so we could get the play off. I mean, whatever it was, that's what made him great is all the little things, the kind of unsung plays.
They weren't little plays, they were big plays, but they weren't necessarily all 90-yarders. They were just those plays that kept drives going. That third-and-11 against the Colts in the AFC Championship game in 2004, we were on our own 10-yard line or something, backed up, and we get out of there on third-and-10 with an 11-yard conversion and Corey [Dillon] ended up scoring on that drive and it kind of iced the game, plays like that. The Denver game out in Denver, the Monday night game, catches the screen after he took the safety, got the ball back, catches the screen pass, goes down and puts us in position where we hit [David] Givens on the touchdown, but it got us into field goal range, so if we [had to] make the kick, it would have put the game in overtime.
They just go on and on, and you know what? Those plays were the same thing in practice, too. It wasn't just the games. We ran those plays in practice and he converted most of them there too. When he said he looked up to Troy Brown and tried to emulate Troy Brown, he did a pretty good job of it. Those two guys were, between them, receiver and running back, both returned kicks. They were both tough, great team players, clutch players, really good hands, caught everything, great decision-makers, great teammates. You're lucky to have one, we had two. I feel blessed. Certainly, they were great additions to the team. Kevin, 13 years – that's a long time for a running back – and he was durable. He was durable.
Clearly, Bill Belichick loves himself some Kevin Faulk. But it's obvious in there why Belichick felt confident enough on a fourth-and-2 at his own 28-yard line to call upon Faulk and Tom Brady to win a football game.
"Third-and-six and he got seven, third-and-four and he got five, third-and-three and he got four. He just had a great knack."
"He always seemed to do the right thing, even if it wasn't a play made, maybe there was no more than what he could get, he got what he could get."
"They weren't little plays, they were big plays, but they weren't necessarily all 90-yarders. They were just those plays that kept drives going."
"And you know what? Those plays were the same thing in practice, too. It wasn't just the games. We ran those plays in practice and he converted most of them there too."
The additional wrinkle to this one is that you may remember what Belichick said shortly after Faulk came up inches short of converting that first down, due in large part to a great read and great tackle by Melvin Bullitt.
"I thought we could make the yard," Belichick said.
"We had a good play. We completed it. I don't know how we could not get a yard on that," he reiterated.
To be sure, Belichick knew it was two yards. But perhaps he was so surprised to see Faulk not get what was needed that he couldn't quite wrap his head around what had just happened in front of his own eyes.
"We thought we could win the game with that play," he explained. "That was a yard I was confident we could get."
At the time, Belichick drew lots of criticism, with Dan Shaughnessy going so far as to say that Belichick "played the part of Grady Little" in the "ghastly" gaffe.
Clearly, it wasn't quite that monumental. It was just a case of Bill Belichick holding a supreme level of trust in Kevin Faulk. It may have defied conventional wisdom, and it no doubt took a lot of stones to make a call like that on national TV. But it's obvious that a dozen years of Faulk coming through when needed in big moments played a much larger factor than anything else when Belichick made that fateful call.
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