Early injuries were no problem
for the Patriots offense to overcome Sunday.
The Patriots lose two key
offensive players early in the first quarter during the AFC Divisional
Round against the Houston Texans at Gillette, but as two players go
down, two important players stepped up to help the Patriots win, 41-28.
“Rob and Dan were a big part
of the plan,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following the game.
“We had a whole plan built for (Gronkowski) and Woody and all those
plans changed … We needed guys to step in and fill the void.”
Answering the call were
running back Shane Vereen and tight end Aaron Hernandez. As New England
lost running back Danny Woodhead with an apparent thumb injury and
after All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski re-injured his left forearm on
the first offensive series of the game, both Vereen and Hernandez
filled the void the rest of the way.
“We had a bunch of guys step
up making plays,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the game.
Vereen became the third
Patriots player in franchise history to score three touchdowns in one
postseason game; the other two being Curtis Martin in 1997 and
Gronkowski last season. “Shane obviously stepped in and made a lot of
big plays,” said Belichick.
Vereen shined both on the
ground and in the passing game. In the first half alone, Vereen rushed
the ball six times for 40 yards, including a 22 yard scamper and a
touchdown. He averaged 6.7 yards a carry in the half.
Vereen also did it catching
the ball out of the backfield. He had three receptions for 45 yards in
the first half. One catch went for a 22 yard screen pass to move the
chains, while Brady hit Vereen on a dump-off into the left flat for an
eight yard touchdown.
He was more dangerous when he
spread out wide. In one of the biggest plays of the game following a
Texans’ turnover in the fourth quarter, Vereen was split out wide left
against a linebacker. Brady, seeing the mismatch, just floated the ball
down the left sideline. Vereen beat the linebacker catching the ball
over his shoulders as he launched himself over the goal line on the 33
yard touchdown grab. He finished with five catches for 83 yards and two
touchdowns to go along with 41 yards on the ground and a score.
“Everything was on the line
and everyone had to step up,” said Vereen. “People stepped up across
the board tonight.”
“It was a huge growing up
moment for (Vereen),” said Brady. “It was very special … We needed to
make plays and Shane made them.”
Hernandez had to pick up his
play as well with Gronkowski leaving the game so early. He was targeted
by Brady nine times with six receptions, the longest being 40 yards to
set up a Patriots second half touchdown. The play occurred on the first
drive of the third quarter and the game was never really in much doubt
since. He averaged 14.2 yard a reception.
“Everyone has to make plays to keep this
thing going,” said Hernandez.
In addition to Vereen and
Hernandez stepping up, Wes Welker had his usually steady game with
eight receptions for 131 yards, including a 47 yard grab down the left
sideline to set up another Patriots score.
“Everyone stepped up their
game tonight,” said Welker. “Guys had to in (Gronkowski’s) absence.”
The initial reports are
Woodhead sustained a broken thumb and could be out the rest of the
playoffs and Gronkowski will undergo season ending surgery after he
re-injured his left forearm, the same arm he injured in Week 11 against
the Colts. He may have re-aggravated his broken left forearm after
landing on it going for a pass along the right sideline in the first
For those players who filled
in, “those guys were prepared and a credit to everyone to be ready,”
With both Woodhead and
Gronkowski out indefinitely, they will need to “be ready” if the
Patriots want a return trip to the Super Bowl.
“Lot guys made plays and we
needed it,” said Brady. “It’s been the mark of our team.”
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist
Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive
the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share
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