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Only Maurice Jones-Drew can stop Maurice Jones-Drew

PRO FOOTBALL

Former UCLA standout has become one of the NFL's best, and now he is known for a heady kneel-down to help the Jaguars win.

November 20, 2009|By Sam Farmer
  • Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew strikes a familiar pose after one of his 12 touchdown runs this season.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew strikes a familiar pose after… (Fernando Medina / US Presswire )

Reporting from Jacksonville, Fla. — Maurice Jones-Drew is a kid at heart and doesn't take himself too seriously. Case in point: On the day before Halloween, the running back drove his Hummer home from Jacksonville Jaguars headquarters wearing the giant, fuzzy red head of a popular "Sesame Street" character.

So when a cluster of New York Jets fans taunted him before Sunday's game at the Meadowlands with a singsong chant of "Over-rated! Over-rated!" this 5-foot-7 Elmo impostor was -- what else? -- tickled.

"It got pretty bad; they almost rattled me," the former UCLA standout said. "I just went over to them and I was like, 'You know what, man, I'm just happy you know my name. Thank you. You've helped me out so much today.' They just looked at me and started laughing.

"It's funny. Kill them with kindness. That's how you stop a trash talker."

Stopping Jones-Drew, that's a different story. NFL teams haven't quite figured that one out. He is fourth in the league in rushing yards, first in rushing touchdowns with 12, and trampled the Jets to the tune of 123 yards and a touchdown. He also became the first player since 2006 to rush for 100 yards against a team that has defensive mastermind Rex Ryan on the payroll.

Of course, the play everyone will remember from that game is the touchdown that wasn't. Inside the final two minutes, with the Jaguars trailing by a point and 10 yards from the end zone, Jones-Drew took a handoff and ran nine yards up the middle.

The Jets wanted him to score so they could get the ball back. But Jones-Drew, following the directions of Coach Jack Del Rio, halted his momentum and kneeled a yard short of the goal line. That enabled his team to run out the remainder of the clock and win with a chip-shot field goal on the final play.

It was the kind of selfless, heady play teammates have come to expect from Jones-Drew, far and away the most popular member of the Jaguars both inside the locker room and in the community. Simply put, "Mo-Jo" is the man.

"He brings that energy that this entire team feeds off of," center Brad Meester said. "He's got that smile, but he's also just got that fire to him."

And if there were ever a team in need of that eternal flame, it's the Jaguars, who have a difficult enough time putting fans in the seats even as the team quietly builds momentum with five wins in seven games.

Two days after the Jets game, Jones-Drew was helping carry the ball again, this time for the front office. He happily agreed to represent the club at a function at Alltel Stadium for season-ticket holders and local business owners, anything to generate interest in a franchise that tarps thousands of seats each week and still can't sell out games.

He learned from onetime backfield mentor Fred Taylor, another of the league's good guys, that kindness kills -- and in a good way.

"Listen, if you say hello to me, I'm going to say hello back," he said. "Some guys have a different feeling, and they think you're supposed to act a certain way. I'm just like you are, man, I bleed the same way. The only thing different about me is I'm on TV on Sundays."

Make no mistake, though, this down-to-earth fellow does like knocking people down to earth. He's a crushing blocker, a low-flying missile who -- in what is now a YouTube classic -- once knocked menacing San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman wobbly.

Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said one of the hardest hits he has ever taken has come from behind, when Jones-Drew has charged into him to push the pile on a keeper. The tailback teammates call "Pinball" is stronger than a triple espresso.

And the thing is, one of the early knocks on Jones-Drew is people thought he'd have a tough time blocking at the NFL level.

"When he got here, the thing I don't think any of us was certain of was can he take on a block and would he be willing?" Del Rio said. "This guy's a ferocious blocker. I think he's at his best when the ball is away from him. The effort, energy and being unselfish."

The way Jones-Drew sees it, the seeds of that were planted when he was "an angry kid" who felt slighted coming out of college because evaluators, including draft gurus on TV, thought his size would severely limit what he could do on the field. He picked No. 32, in fact, because that's how many teams passed on him in the first round of the 2006 draft -- the Jaguars included -- before he was selected 60th, behind running backs Reggie Bush, Laurence Maroney, DeAngelo Williams and LenDale White. "Playing football is all about having that controlled aggression, controlled anger," he said. "From play to play, you're able to let a little bit of it out here, a little bit there. You always come back to that, 'These guys said I couldn't do it. I'm going to show them.' "

So maybe those New York needlers learned a thing or two. One man's overrated is another man's overlooked.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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