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Rookie RB Maroney returns to Minnesota

Oct 25, 2006 - 1:16 AM New England (5-1) at Minnesota (4-2) 8:30 pm EST

MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- The Minnesota Vikings passed on the chance to draft a local college hero. Bill Belichick took advantage of that.

The New England Patriots visit the Vikings in a marquee interconference matchup on Monday night.

Patriots rookie running back Laurence Maroney is very familiar with the Metrodome. He performed there many times in three years at the University of Minnesota and finished as the school's second all-time leading rusher with 3,933 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Known as the back with the dreadlocks, Maroney set a school record with 1,464 yards as a junior.

Maroney was still available when the Vikings had the 17th pick in the draft. But after signing running back Chester Taylor as a free agent, Minnesota decided to use the pick on Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway.

Unfortunately, Greenway suffered a torn left ACL in the preseason opener against Oakland and was placed on injured reserve.

With the 21st pick, the Patriots pounced on Maroney.

Corey Dillon set a franchise record with 1,635 rushing yards in 2004 when the Patriots won their third Super Bowl, but missed nearly a third of last season with ankle and calf injuries and finished with just 733 yards.

That was enough for Belichick and Patriots director of personnel Scott Pioli to jump on Maroney. They have not regretted it.

Maroney leads all NFL rookies with 361 yards on 86 carries and has formed quite a 1-2 punch with Dillon, who has 328 yards on 82 carries.

Belichick is not one to dole out compliments, especially to rookies. But even he couldn't resist when asked about Maroney's impact.

"He's a playmaker and he's becoming a complete player," Belichick said.

Possessing power and speed, the 5-11, 220-pound Maroney leveled Cincinnati safeties Madieu Williams and Kevin Kaesviharn with stiff arms in a 15-carry, 125-yard performance on October 1.

Last week, Maroney returned a kick 74 yards to set up a touchdown in a 28-6 win at Buffalo.

But the Vikings are quite happy with Taylor, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 590 yards

After spending his first four years with Baltimore as a backup to Jamal Lewis, Taylor has proven he can handle the role of feature back. Last week, he rushed for a career-high 169 yards, including a franchise-record 95-yard touchdown run, in a 31-13 victory at Seattle.

Taylor has certainly benefited from the presence of three-time Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson, who signed a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Vikings in the offseason. Minnesota is averaging 116 rushing yards per game this season after averaging 91.7 in 2005.

The Vikings have won their last four games on Monday night, including a season-opening 19-16 victory at Washington on September 11.

This is the first and only Monday night game of the season for the three-time defending AFC East champion Patriots, who at 5-1 are off to their second-best start since Belichick became coach in 2000. It is exceeded only by a 6-0 start in 2004.

Despite playing with a cast of new wide receivers with the exception of Troy Brown, Tom Brady has passed for 1,226 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. Doug Gabriel, who was acquired from Oakland before the season, and rookie Chad Jackson each caught a touchdown in the win at Buffalo.

Brady is 19-4 in his career against NFC teams, including three Super Bowl wins. He threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-21 win over the Vikings in November 2002.

Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who had a 15-yard touchdown catch in the win at Seattle, was a member of the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning team in 2001.

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