BY ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
FOXBORO - When it comes to playing in the Patriots system, running back Fred Taylor has one philosophy: "Be ready to play, be ready to go at any given time."
Even though the Patriots ran the ball a combined 29.9 percent of the time in their first two games, he made sure that he was both mentally and physically ready to have a high workload Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium against Atlanta just in case the Patriots were going to run a more balanced offense.
And they did. The plan was for the Patriots to run the ball, control the clock, and keep Atlanta's high-scoring offense off the field.
With Taylor's help, they did just that, dominating the time of possession, 39:49 to 20:11 and total plays, 81 to 45.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound bruising back led the Patriots ground game with 21 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown in New England's 26-10 victory over Atlanta, proving that he has not lost a step at age 33.
It was his best outing since Sept. 21, 2007, when he carried the ball 26 times for 121 yards when he was playing for Jacksonville, and his 49th career 100-yard rushing game (ninth in NFL history and second among active players behind Edgerrin James, who has 57).
"It felt good," Taylor said of his performance. "It always feels good when you can run through guys and create some momentum for the offense. I'd be lying if I said it didn't. I just want to do my job - whatever I can to help the team, that's what I want to do."
"He ran great," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "He's really shifty, so even when there's not a lot of room in there, he makes yards whenever we give him the ball. He's a really good player for us and we've got to get him the ball."
Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson wasn't surprised Taylor had a big day.
"I knew coming into the game he still had it," Peterson said.
Taylor's effort helped New England's virtually non-existent running game over the first two weeks of the season to a whopping 168 rushing yards on Sunday.
"Fred has run hard for us all year, in the preseason and all the way through training camp," coach Bill Belichick said. "He runs hard and he knows where the holes are. He sets up blockers well and he can carry the load. He did a great job today and I thought our offensive line did a much better job coming off of the ball than they did the last couple of weeks and gave the backs [somewhere] to run and the backs ran hard so that was good."
"As a running back, as a running back coach or just a coach in general, you always talk to your running backs about yards after contact, and today, Fred Taylor showed how important it is to get yards after contact . . . and why he's Fred Taylor," said running back Kevin Faulk (5 rushes, 25 yards).
Taylor wasn't given a lot of opportunities to run the ball during the Patriots' first two games, but he got them Sunday and didn't disappoint.
He didn't start, taking a backseat to Laurence Maroney (4 carries, 17 yards, injured in the second quarter) and Sammy Morris (5 carries, 16 yards), but after his performance, he just might get the starting nod next week against Baltimore.
Taylor jump-started the Patriots running attack on their second possession of the game when he racked up the final 42 yards on only four carries of a 52-yard scoring drive. That included an 8-yard touchdown run up-the-middle which gave the Patriots a 10-3 lead.
"[The offensive line] did the majority of that," Taylor said. "They handled the down linemen and their linebackers didn't maintain their discipline with their gap assignments and my job was to just run straight. I didn't do much. On the touchdown I walked into the end zone. The offensive line, they blocked it like it was supposed to be [blocked]."
His second carry on the drive went for 19 yards, his longest run of the season, and with that, he surpassed John Riggins for 15th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list. He ranks third among active players with 11,447 career rushing yards.
The Patriots began their first drive of the second half with three straight rushes by Taylor. He recorded a combined 19 yards on those carries and his hard-running helped set up play-action-passes for quarterback Tom Brady. Stephen Gostkowski capped off the 79-yard drive that Taylor began with a 22-yard field goal that gave New England a 16-10 lead.
Taylor's performance shouldn't come as a shock. During his prime, he was a perennial 1,000 yard rusher. It was only two short seasons ago when Taylor was named to his first Pro Bowl while playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He amassed 1,202 yards on 223 carries that season, but only produced 556 yards behind an injury-plagued offensive line last season. He also missed the Jags final three games of the season with a thumb injury.
He said that being part of a five running back system with New England is not a huge change for him because he shared the ball with Maurice Jones-Drew over his final two seasons in Jacksonville.
"I was the starter but I was the compliment to Maurice," Taylor said. "It is the same thing here. [I just need] to be ready to play. In this day and age everyone wants a two-headed monster, two running backs that have that change-of-pace capability so each guy has to be ready."