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Smith now carrying the Patriots' load

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             Antowain Smith's final game as a Buffalo Bill served notice that although his career in upstate New York might be finished, his career as an NFL running back was far from over.  

Smith had a career-high 147 rushing yards and tied a personal best with three touchdowns in Buffalo's season-ending win over Seattle. When you consider Smith only ran for 354 yards and four touchdowns all of last year, Smith's finale was quite impressive.

Signed by the Patriots in the offseason, Smith went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time since 1998 by running for a career-high 156 yards in New England's 20-13 win over Miami last Saturday. That victory, combined with Seattle's loss on Sunday, clinched a playoff spot for New England.

"It was an important game for us, and the coaching staff came to me early on and said to me that they were going to give me the chance to go out there and run the ball," Smith told NFL.com. "We knew that early on in the week so the offensive line and myself knew we would have to go out there and make it happen early on. That way we'd have the confidence to keep running the ball."

Smith had his share of nagging injuries in Buffalo and that contributed to his career low for rushing yards last year. After getting hurt during the first half vs. Miami, he returned to play the final two quarters.

"At some point in the second quarter, I took a direct hit on my lower leg and it gave me a contusion that stiffened up on me," Smith said. "At halftime there was no way I was leaving the game -- especially with the magnitude of the game and what we were playing for, first place, a playoff berth. There was no way I was sitting out. I would have played with a broken leg if I had to."

Winning the starting running back's job wasn't easy for Smith. J.R. Redmond worked hard during the offseason to improve his game and Kevin Faulk had locked up playing time as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Smith immediately proved his worth as a goal-line and short-yardage back, and his playing time increased from there.

"It was just winning the confidence of my coaching staff," Smith said. "They gave me a chance to go out there and show them what I can do in practice and also when I got into the games. I took advantage of the opportunities I was given early on and I was just trying my best to do whatever I could to help this team win.

"It kind of worked out now that I'm the workhorse running back on the team. J.R [Redmond] and Kevin [Faulk], those are my boys. They come in there and do well when I'm not in there and I can't forget about my boy Marc Edwards. He's my personal protector and he's doing a great job for me. Hopefully we can continue to keep it going."

Edwards was signed during the offseason to provide Smith with a quality blocking fullback. Rookie left tackle Matt Light and left guard Mike Compton, who also was brought in this year, have combined to open up huge holes for Smith to run through.

"I think that's one of the areas where we've improved," Smith said. "My offensive linemen know me a little better. We struggled a little early on in the season but we're coming together at the correct time and I take my hat off to the guys up front."

In addition to gaining the tough yards, Smith has also provided big plays for the Patriots offense. In an overtime victory against Buffalo two weeks ago, he set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal with a 38-yard run. Then last week against the Dolphins, Smith's 44-yard scamper set up New England's second touchdown.

"That's a credit to the coaching staff," Smith said. "They're giving me an opportunity to make some plays and I'm going out there and making the best of it. Sometimes you struggle early on but if you break a big one that gives you confidence, that gives the offensive line confidence and the coaching staff the confidence to continue to come back and call that play."

The Patriots, who finish the season at Carolina next week, have a bye this week. Smith, however, already is looking forward to the next challenge.

"We have a great work ethic and we know what we're capable of doing if we do the correct things and don't turn the ball over and make mental errors," he said. "We just need to continue to work hard and get ready for our next game against the Carolina Panthers."

Did Smith ever think the Patriots would be something like 10-5 in late December?

"Honestly, yes," Smith said. "It looked rocky early on but I knew we had the talent on this team and we had a lot of new faces coming in and it was just a matter of us getting to know each other and believing in one another and learning each other's tendencies.

"Now we have that down and we're just going out there and having fun playing football."
Antowain Smith's final game as a Buffalo Bill served notice that although his career in upstate New York might be finished, his career as an NFL running back was far from over.

Smith had a career-high 147 rushing yards and tied a personal best with three touchdowns in Buffalo's season-ending win over Seattle. When you consider Smith only ran for 354 yards and four touchdowns all of last year, Smith's finale was quite impressive.

Signed by the Patriots in the offseason, Smith went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time since 1998 by running for a career-high 156 yards in New England's 20-13 win over Miami last Saturday. That victory, combined with Seattle's loss on Sunday, clinched a playoff spot for New England.

"It was an important game for us, and the coaching staff came to me early on and said to me that they were going to give me the chance to go out there and run the ball," Smith told NFL.com. "We knew that early on in the week so the offensive line and myself knew we would have to go out there and make it happen early on. That way we'd have the confidence to keep running the ball."

Smith had his share of nagging injuries in Buffalo and that contributed to his career low for rushing yards last year. After getting hurt during the first half vs. Miami, he returned to play the final two quarters.

"At some point in the second quarter, I took a direct hit on my lower leg and it gave me a contusion that stiffened up on me," Smith said. "At halftime there was no way I was leaving the game -- especially with the magnitude of the game and what we were playing for, first place, a playoff berth. There was no way I was sitting out. I would have played with a broken leg if I had to."

Winning the starting running back's job wasn't easy for Smith. J.R. Redmond worked hard during the offseason to improve his game and Kevin Faulk had locked up playing time as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Smith immediately proved his worth as a goal-line and short-yardage back, and his playing time increased from there.

"It was just winning the confidence of my coaching staff," Smith said. "They gave me a chance to go out there and show them what I can do in practice and also when I got into the games. I took advantage of the opportunities I was given early on and I was just trying my best to do whatever I could to help this team win.

"It kind of worked out now that I'm the workhorse running back on the team. J.R [Redmond] and Kevin [Faulk], those are my boys. They come in there and do well when I'm not in there and I can't forget about my boy Marc Edwards. He's my personal protector and he's doing a great job for me. Hopefully we can continue to keep it going."

Edwards was signed during the offseason to provide Smith with a quality blocking fullback. Rookie left tackle Matt Light and left guard Mike Compton, who also was brought in this year, have combined to open up huge holes for Smith to run through.

"I think that's one of the areas where we've improved," Smith said. "My offensive linemen know me a little better. We struggled a little early on in the season but we're coming together at the correct time and I take my hat off to the guys up front."

In addition to gaining the tough yards, Smith has also provided big plays for the Patriots offense. In an overtime victory against Buffalo two weeks ago, he set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal with a 38-yard run. Then last week against the Dolphins, Smith's 44-yard scamper set up New England's second touchdown.

"That's a credit to the coaching staff," Smith said. "They're giving me an opportunity to make some plays and I'm going out there and making the best of it. Sometimes you struggle early on but if you break a big one that gives you confidence, that gives the offensive line confidence and the coaching staff the confidence to continue to come back and call that play."

The Patriots, who finish the season at Carolina next week, have a bye this week. Smith, however, already is looking forward to the next challenge.

"We have a great work ethic and we know what we're capable of doing if we do the correct things and don't turn the ball over and make mental errors," he said. "We just need to continue to work hard and get ready for our next game against the Carolina Panthers."

Did Smith ever think the Patriots would be something like 10-5 in late December?

"Honestly, yes," Smith said. "It looked rocky early on but I knew we had the talent on this team and we had a lot of new faces coming in and it was just a matter of us getting to know each other and believing in one another and learning each other's tendencies.

"Now we have that down and we're just going out there and having fun playing football."

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