Rookie running back Laurence Maroney's takeover of the Patriots offense is well under way.
The former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher stole the show, even in Corey Dillon's old stomping grounds, last week, carrying the Patriots offense with a combination of speed and power that hasn't been seen here since Dillon rolled up nearly 2,000 yards (regular season and playoffs) in 2003.
Nobody wants to talk about Maroney, without mentioning Dillon and fellow respected veteran Kevin Faulk, that is.
But by now, with Maroney chewing up 4.9 yards a carry compared to Dillon's 4.1, it's getting tougher and tougher to share the accolades. Even for a seasoned veteran.
"That's a great luxury. He and Corey and Kevin ... the running back position is extremely strong. They play hard, they run hard and they read things well," said quarterback Tom Brady. "Whether it's Laurence getting the ball or Corey getting the ball, each of those guys bring different strengths."
Brady would have been OK to stop there. It's been the party line.
But Maroney's 125-yard, 2-touchdown effort in Cincinnati - "a statement game," according to Brady - truly impacted this group, instilling the entire team with a newfound confidence in its offense.
"Laurence is a very explosive back," Brady continued. "You see him. Not only can he run with speed, but he runs with power. He stiff arms guys, he makes good cuts and he can finish runs off.
"Laurence has worked extremely hard, and everyone is glad to have Laurence on our team. He's certainly a dynamic playmaker for us. And he has to continue to be that."
Not that the Patriots don't still need Dillon. He brings plenty of pop and even more cache, what with his 10,665 career rushing yards.
And, as the Bengals felt late Sunday, Dillon, coming up on his 32nd birthday, still has a nose for the end zone. Not only that, he has always run with a chip on his shoulder.
Belichick himself likened it to Pittsburgh's 2005 transition from Jerome Bettis to Willie Parker.
Hurt Hobbs talking
Unlike most injured New England players, cornerback Ellis Hobbs was available to any and all media members willing to listen.
Hobbs, who missed the game in Cincinnati, called it "a game-time decision" not to compete against the Bengals.
When reminded that he didn't get on the plane Saturday with the team's traveling party, Hobbs, who broke his wrist in the Denver game Sept. 24, recanted, saying he meant that there was a chance he'd go, right up until the time the bus left Foxboro.
Hobbs left little doubt that he would be back this weekend, whether the team needed him or not. New England moves to the bye week after Sunday before playing at Buffalo.
Hobbs was asked of he looked to Tedy Bruschi, who came back from a training camp broken wrist, and he just noted, "I have my way and Tedy had his."
Hobbs, who has been up and down at the corner the last two seasons, showed glimpses of brilliance last year against Miami.
"He did a fantastic job. We liked him a lot in the draft," said Miami coach Nick Saban. "He's played very well. He did a great job. He's very aggressive. He's physical. He's a great competitor. I really like the way he plays, and he made some fantastic plays in that game."
Talking cheap shot
Daniel Graham noted that he hadn't spoken to his former Colorado teammate Andre Gurode since the Dallas Cowboy was viciously attacked by Tennessee lineman Albert Haynesworth.
The Titan defensive lineman has since been suspended five games by the NFL and has apologized. But for now, all of Graham's thoughts are centered around Gurode.
Gurode and Graham played alongside Salem's Wayne Lucier on the offensive line at Colorado.
"I haven't yet talked to him, but I wish him the best of luck," said Graham. "It's sad to see something like that happen to him or anybody, especially in this sport.
"If you know Andre like I know Andre, I know he must have been getting some good, little cheap stuff in, but regardless of what happened, that's not called for. And it's not acceptable."
Wrap it up
"It's a one-week season right now," said Belichick. "All I care about is Miami."
Clearly, the coach is trying to keep his team from getting ahead of itself, like he does every week.
But if you're talking simply the AFC East, the next three weeks offer the Patriots a chance to distance themselves from the competition.
Wins against Miami and, after the bye, at Buffalo, would put at least two games on those two, possibly more. Considering the Jets face a tough one at Jacksonville this week, too, the division could be settled very early.
Odds and ends
Looking for a rallying cry for the Patriots this weekend? Go back to December 2004.
Of the seven Patriots surveyed in the locker room yesterday, six (plus Belichick, who surely instigated the whole thing) mentioned 2004 when the 12-1 Pats went down and fell to 2-11 Miami.
Clearly, Brady needed to brush up on the company line as he stumbled through his opening remarks.
"We went down there at, whatever our record was 12-1 or 13-1, and they were 2-11 and they beat us," said Brady. "So they have a lot to play for, and we have a lot to play for."
The sentiment was echoed everywhere around the locker room. ...
The Patriots filled their final spot on the 53-man roster, which came up short when Jonathan Smith was cut this week, by signing fifth-year free agent Chidi Iwuoma, a former Pittsburgh Steeler. ...
Joining the aforementioned Hobbs on this week's injured list were questionables Graham (ankle), safety Artrell Hawkins (thigh), receiver Chad Jackson (hamstring), tackle Nick Kaczur (shoulder) and safety Eugene Wilson (hamstring).
Rookie tackle Ryan O'Callaghan and corner Willie Andrews joined Brady as a probable. ...
Is Miami, struggling at 1-3, suffering from a bit of the Sports Illustrated curse? The magazine picked the Dolphins to win this year's Super Bowl.
"First of all, we didn't do anything to deserve, earn or encourage any of those things," said Saban. "No disrespect to the media - I love all you guys - but you guys create it, and when it doesn't work that way there's some frustration, some disappointment. That's not good for you when you're trying to develop an identity and focus on the job at hand."