Best of the Belichick Era: Number 23 — Antowain Smith


I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.)


Today we reach . . . .

Years With Patriots: 2001-2003
Games: 45
Playoff Games: 6
Honors: Super Bowl winner (2001,2003)

After making just three starts for the Buffalo Bills in 2000, carrying for a measly 354 yards, it seemed like it was over for Antowain Smith. It was a decent run for a guy who didn’t get to the NFL until he was 25. Having been saddled with a load of family responsibilities coming out of high school, Smith worked two years in a material dyeing factory before going to junior college and then onto the University of Houston. At 6-2, 232 pounds, he ripped it up for the Cougars and was a first-round selection in 1997. The Patriots had a need in 2001. Kevin Faulk had been their lead back and he wasn’t suited for everydown work. Smith was. And then some. A plowhorse, he ran for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns during the 2001 regular season. His biggest contribution, though, came in the 2001 Super Bowl. You really have to take stock of the Patriots offensive weaponry in that game to appreciate what Smith did. A second-year quarterback making just his 17th start. Troy Brown and David Patten at wideout – most teams wouldn’t even consider them starters. Rod Rutledge and Jermaine Wiggins were the tight ends. If the Patriots didn’t play brilliant defense and control the ball, they would get pounded. Smith carried 18 times for 92 yards against the Rams in that 20-17 win. There was a 9-yard gain on Smith’s first touch of the game. Consecutive 9 and 12-yard carries coming out of halftime. A 17-yarder midway through the third. Each one announced the Patriots were not going away and that the Rams weren’t getting the ball soon. Smith’s work dipped in 2002, but in 2003 he was again the postseason weapon that got the Patriots another Lombardi. He ran for 69 yards on 16 carries in the bitter cold against Tennessee. Now 31 years old, Smith carried 22 times for 100 yards in the AFC Championship against Indy. He went for 86 yards against the Panthers in the Super Bowl. There wasn’t much nuance to Antowain’s game. He ran with a terrific lean and always, always, always fell forward. Where most backs would get 1, he’d get 3 or 4. That was what those Patriots needed. And Smith delivered. He left New England as a free agent in 2004 and went from Tennessee to New Orleans in the fading light of his career.

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