FOXBORO | The hardest hits Laurence Maroney has endured this year haven't even been on the gridiron.

In an up-and-down regular season, the critics have wondered: Is he banged up? Is he in Bill Belichick's doghouse? Is he soft? Is he nothing more than a pedestrian back?

Maroney has picked the perfect time to answer the naysayers. He scored twice against the Giants to help clinch a perfect 16-0 season and stole the show from Jacksonville's Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew last night in the AFC Divisional game.

Taylor (13-47) and Jones-Drew (6-19) were major disappointments in the 31-20 loss while the second-year man out of Minnesota came up big with 22 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown to go with two receptions for 40 yards. The rest of the Patriots totalled only 23 more rushing yards.

The mediocre regular season (185 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs) will be ancient history if Maroney puts together a couple more games like this in the coming weeks.

The first comment a TV reporter made to Maroney after the game was, "It didn't seem like (you were) tippy-toeing any more."

Ouch!

"They can say what they want," said the St. Louis native, who was part of a brilliant backfield in college along with the Cowboys' Marion Barber. "I don't worry. I just make things happen. Have (the critics) ever played running back?"

He made thing shappen last night with a 53-yard run and the 1-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter for his first playoff TD.

Maroney was modest about his performance, which ranks him third on the club's all-time, single-game playoff rushing list.

"The line did most of it," he said, and in this case it wasn't just a canned response. "They gave me 110 yards or something."

"I thought Laurence ran well," said typically understated Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He does a good job in the passing game. He's improved dramatically in two years, no question."

One of his most heartening runs was for no gain. With 3:46 left in the game, well, Bavaroesque might be hyperbole, but he fought off a wave of tacklers and refused to go down.

Tom Brady feigned ignorance on why Maroney has been under heavy criticism.

"Laurence has been great," he said. "He's been playing good all season. I don't think he probably had all the opportunities he would have hoped, but ... he's been extremely productive."

After citing the pinball-like numbers the passing game has put up for Maroney's so-so stats, Brady finally became frank.

"Laurence, thank God, lost it there for a little bit," admitted Brady, "but he's obviously found his way."

Remember the Broncos

The Jaguars had to come in with a little bit of confidence. It was, after all, Jacksonville which stunned the supposedly unbeatable Broncos, who were top seeds and playing at Mile High Stadium, during the 1996-97 season.

Unfortunately for coach Tom Coughlin and the Jags, New England pasted them the next week in the AFC title game, 20-6.

Saying hello to old friends

Mark Duffner, who had an unbelievable record at Holy Cross coaching the likes of Derry's Joe Segreti and the great Gordie Lockbaum, is Jacksonville's linebackers coach. The club's defensive line coach is ex-Patriots star lineman Ray Hamilton.

But the coach who probably wanted to beat the Pats the most? Probably quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, the son of Don Shula of 17-0 Dolphins fame.

Executive scout Terry McDonough is the son of the late, great Boston columnist Will McDonough.

Double-trouble

Catcher Jack Del Rio played with Randy Johnson and Mark McGwire at USC. The Jaguars' head coach hit .340 over the 1983 and 1984 seasons with the Trojans.

Matt Jones, a 6-foot-6 wide receiver, was another two-sport collegian.

Fifteen-yard penalty on the Jaguars' media relations staff for not even mentioning he also was a basketball star at the University of Arkansas.

"You'll have to ask them (the PR department)," said Jones of the oversight. "I'm a hoopster first and foremost. I started in hoop before football."

The Jags may not appreciate that comment since Jones, the 18th pick overall in 2005, has been a major disappointment. Maybe next year, as the speed burner was a quarterback for the Razorbacks.

He did catch three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown last night.

Not perfect enough

It's not too often that a quarterback is perfect, but the other signal-caller last night had a better QB rating. That was the case in the first half with Brady (12 for 12, 120 yards, 1 TD, 136.1 rating) and Garrard (12 of 14, 149 yards, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions, 150.6 rating).

While Brady set the new NFL completion percentage record, nobody should be calling Garrard a journeyman any longer.

The East Carolina product was 22 of 33 for 278 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. One of his incompletions was a 40-yard rope on the run which was just over the outstretched hands of Dennis Northcutt. Not too many NFL QBs can make that pass.

Rodney Harrison called him a "Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback."

Stallworth's back

Donte' Stallworth, who had been MIA in recent weeks, made his presence felt with three catches for 68 yards. ... So much for John Henderson being questionable. He sacked Tom Brady on the Pats' first offensive play of the game and finished with seven solo tackles, an assist and a quarterback hit. ... What's more important, stripping the ball or recovering it? Must be stripping it. Mike Vrabel recovered Garrard's fumble on the Ty Warren strip and immediately tossed it to Warren for his trophy case. ... Massachusetts native Paula Cole sang the national anthem. ... Have we seen the last of Troy Brown? He was dressed but didn't play.

Respecting Rodney

Harrison continues to build on his Hall of Fame resume. His late interception last night gave him seven in his seven playoff games in New England. He also tied the NFL record with his fourth straight playoff game with a pick.

He could have had another but he dropped one in the end zone, although it looked like it may have glanced off Tedy Bruschi's fingers.

The hard-hitting safety did hurt the cause with a pair of late hits.

The 35-year-old Harrison wasn't the only grizzled veteran to deliver. Junior Seau, who will turn 39 on Saturday, led the Patriots with five tackles and five assists and Bruschi, 34, contributed three tackles and four assists.

Missing Moss

Randy Moss was a non-factor, catching just one pass for 14 yards, a far cry from his ungodly regular season numbers (98 catches, 1,493 yards, NFL record 23 TD catches).

The former Viking and Raider came into the game as one of the more dynamic postseason performers in recent league history with 35 catches for 723 yards and nine scores in eight contests.

"I think they got back to the old way to cover me," said Moss. "You know, that's putting two and three guys on me for the whole game. ... So they did a great job of controlling me but a bad job of controlling the rest of the team."

Moss is usually unstoppable, but the Jags had two things in their favor. Assistant coach Mike Tice, who came up with the ill-fated "Randy Rule", and defensive back Brian Williams were both familiar with Moss from their days with the Vikings.

"We were together in Minnesota for three years and we definitely had our battles," said Williams.

Further proof that it's a more mature Moss was the fact he was still upbeat after the game.

When a PR flak bellowed, "Last question!" during Brady's interview session, Moss, hiding his face, asked sheepishly, "Do you think you're a handsome quarterback?"

The giddiness continued when a Japanese reporter asked Moss about his colorful outfit.

He certainly opted for the casual hip-hop over the Brady GQ. Moss sported a do-rag, his jacket was a hoody, but not the Belichick tattered version. It was powder blue with a score of small Superman logos. His baggy jeans had NFL logos of all the NFL teams.

So what will he wear next week?

"It will probably be in the teens, so maybe shorts and a T-shirt," he said.

He still had his quarterback's back. A reporter asked him about the Jaguars saying Brady wasn't overly impressive.

"Not that impressed?" said an incredulous Moss. "Not that impressed? When you lose you say things that are inappropriate."

Uniquely versatile

Richard Seymour showed what makes him special early in the second quarter when he deflected a Garrard pass, which was still caught by Jones-Drew. The 6-6, 310-pounder sprinted downfield and tackled the halfback.

That's probably why the notoriously tight-lipped Pats put up with his personal trainer blaming them for Seymour's injuries. He said it was a huge mistake for them to have him play some fullback a few years back, and his recent injuries all stem from the hits he took then.

Razzle-dazzle

The Brady-to-Wes Welker 6-yard TD connection in the third quarter was straight off the sandlot.

In the play called "double pop," Brady faked that the snap was over his head, deftly hiding the ball on his hip. Kevin Faulk raced through the hole as if he had the ball, then Brady rifled the TD strike through three defenders.

"What more can you say?" Maroney said with a laugh.

Brady, who knows a thing or two about Hollywood, quipped, "I'm looking for my Academy Award. They bit on the run pretty good."

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