FOXBORO, Mass. — If you weren’t happy for Tyler Gaffney after he ripped off a 44-yard touchdown in the New England Patriots’ preseason opener, you either don’t have a heart, don’t know his story, or you’re a Cal fan.
Some background: The running back was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2014 but tore his meniscus before training camp and was waived with the intention of being placed on injured reserve. Bill Belichick wagged his finger like Dikembe Mutombo and blocked Gaffney from hitting IR by claiming him and storing him on the Patriots’ 90-man roster throughout the summer of 2014 before placing him on injured reserve when he no longer had to pass through waivers.
Hopes were high for the former sixth-round pick last summer before he suffered another non-contact injury early in training camp and was placed on injured reserve before ever playing a preseason game.
When the Patriots released Gaffney this spring, it seemed from the outside that his chance of making it with New England was over. Then he was re-signed days later on a reduced salary.
So, Thursday’s 34-22 win over the New Orleans Saints probably meant more to Gaffney than any other player on the Gillette Stadium field. He finished with nine carries for 64 yards and a touchdown and added two receptions for 7 yards in his first game action in 953 days.
“It felt great,” Gaffney said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been working with these guys for the last two years. It felt like a lifetime, but to get back here and to get a win for your first game back is great.”
Gaffney had a massive hole to run through to start his 44-yard score. Then he had to run through a tackle and beat Saints linebacker Jeff Schoettenheimer to the end zone.
“There wasn’t a lot of thinking,” Gaffney said after the game. “It was just a big blur to me. It was a very surreal moment. I’ve played one year of football in the last four years. It’s been great, these guys have been great. I mean, that run was a good run, a good, easy read. The line did a good job to get me started again.”
It was Gaffney’s third carry since Jan. 1, 2014, when he last played in a game for Stanford in the Rose Bowl against Michigan State. Gaffney also took off the 2012 season to play minor league baseball, so he hasn’t had a whole lot of contact over the last four years.
“It has been a long time coming,” Gaffney said. “It’s been two years. Two years of rehab that I’ve been here. I feel like I’ve lived here for the past two years with rehab every day, meetings, watching the guys. I think that’s helped myself grow and come along two years later.”
This was a good start for Gaffney, but if he can string together an impressive preseason, it’s possible he can win a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster. Dion Lewis similarly grabbed a starting role last preseason when he impressed in camp after two seasons out of football due to injuries. The Patriots aren’t exactly loaded at running back, and they could be looking for another big back to back up LeGarrette Blount.
Gaffney proved capable Thursday night.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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