A short eight-yard pitch and catch
from Tom Brady on the game’s very first play from scrimmage was all it took for
Hernandez to reassert himself within the Patriots offense.
The end result may not have
rendered the triumphant return anticipated entering the showdown in Seattle, but even in the devastating loss the Patriots endured on Sunday, Hernandez
was clearly the silver lining.
Hernandez’s return to New
England’s offense came on the heels of a three-week absence due to a severe
ankle sprain. The tight end didn’t fill his normal role in the offense, being limited to just 37 of 85 plays the Patriots ran on Sunday, but he did make an
impact in the action he did see.
Brady targeted Hernandez
nine times against the Seahawks, the third most on the team, apparently viewing the
tight end’s combination of size and speed as a mismatch for a physically
imposing Seattle defense. Hernandez made his presence felt, too, hauling in six
catches for 30 yards and a touchdown to help steady the passing game.
Offensive coordinator Josh
McDaniels recognized Hernandez’s role in the Patriots success upon his return.
“Aaron made some key
plays,” McDaniels said during a conference call with reporters on Monday.
“We obviously limited some of the things that we did with him, but he made
some important plays for us.”
Just as he was on Sunday,
Hernandez has been an important piece to the Patriots offensive puzzle for
three-plus years now. And he remains a vital piece, even if the offense
continued to flourish in his absence.
The 15 or so quarters that
the Patriots were forced to play without Hernandez weren’t so bad. Aside from
their stagnant start in the Week 2 loss to the Cardinals, the Patriots managed
more than 1,600 yards of total offense and 113 points in the three full games
without their talented tight end. But Hernandez’s showing on Sunday just goes
to reemphasize the value he adds.
“He got some drives
started with some positive plays, made a couple of third-down conversions there
and then ended up scoring on the goal line,” McDaniels said of Hernandez.
“I thought Aaron tried to do exactly what we wanted him to do with his
opportunities and hopefully that will continue to improve as we go
Going forward, Hernandez’s
role in the Patriots offense will undoubtedly expand back to where it was last
season. Brady relies so much on Hernandez’s ability to get open across the
middle, and his versatility in lining up anywhere — on the outside or even
in the backfield — presents a matchup nightmare for any defense matching up against
Hernandez is obviously essential to the Patriots’
offensive success and adds just another layer of complexity to an already
elaborate attack. His return to the field, and even more importantly to full
health, is important for this offense to find consistency and for this team to
persevere past the mediocrity they’ve displayed so far this season.