The Patriots’ second-year running back was hampered by injuries for big chunks of his rookie season as well as this season, and that has kept him from making any sort of impact in New England’s growing ground game. He decided to change that on Thursday night.
While slowly working his way into the running back rotation as the season has progressed, Vereen finally began carving out more of a consistent role in recent weeks. He is playing a lot more, taking snaps away from versatile tailback Danny Woodhead, and he even finds himself stealing carries from lead back Stevan Ridley every now and again. But at the Meadowlands on Thursday, Vereen established his presence on the ground and through the air, making sure he’s no longer an afterthought.
During the Patriots’ 49-19 blowout win over the Jets, Vereen actually served as something of a spark for the typically potent Patriots offense. And his impact didn’t go unnoticed.
“Of course Shane got us started with a big play early in the game,” Bill Belichick said of Vereen after the game, making sure to single out the hard-working back.
Vereen carried the ball effectively, rushing 10 times for 42 yards on the night and taking some of the load off of Ridley, especially in the early going. But after showing off some of his moves on the ground, Vereen decided to show off his blazing speed via the team’s passing attack as well.
At the start of the second quarter, Tom Brady found Vereen on a short screen pattern and hit the tailback in stride as he streaked down the sideline past numerous Jets defenders on his way to the end zone.
“I just ran the play that was called, and Tom did a great job of putting it on me,” Vereen said, describing the play. “Wes did a great job of drawing the corner away and making the block downfield. And I was able to finish it off.”
The reception was one of two for Vereen on the evening, but the 83-yard touchdown catch and run was more than enough to display the sort of impact he can add to an already explosive offensive unit.
Vereen has always been known as a dangerous speedster, even dating back to his days at Cal. His quickness is lethal, and his shifty cuts in and out of holes make him an even more difficult runner to defend. Now that he’s healthy, Vereen is finally seeing more time in the offense, and he’s making good on the second-round draft choice New England used to select him prior to last season.
“I just do this for the team,” Vereen said humbly, avoiding the personal praise. “It’s fun when we all get a win.”
Humility or not, the relationship is finally panning out between the storied franchise and the talented tailback. He’s not only staying on the field, but he’s actually having an impact. And an important one at that.
With Brady, Ridley, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, eventually Rob Gronkowski and others contributing regularly, the Patriots’ offense is already deadly enough as is. Now, if Vereen can just stay healthy, his skill set will only make the Patriots that much more dangerous.