FOXBORO, Mass. — All season long, the New England Patriots have exemplified the phrase “next man up,” reeling off win after win despite losing numerous key players to injury
This week, Dwayne Allen is that “next man.”
With Rob Gronkowski sidelined as he serves his one-game suspension, Allen will be New England’s No. 1 tight end for Monday night’s game against the Miami Dolphins, with rookie Jacob Hollister serving as his backup.
“Rob has huge shoes to fill, and it’s going to everyone collectively to fill those shoes,” Allen said Thursday. “Whatever the game plan is whenever I get in, I’ll go out there and execute it to the best of my ability.”
Allen was one of the Patriots’ biggest disappointments during the first half of the season — he caught zero passes over the first eight games and went four weeks without a single target — but has been much more involved since the bye week.
Over the past four games, he’s caught five passes on seven targets for 40 yards and made noticeable contributions in the running game — not Gronk-like numbers by any means, but enough to give Allen a considerable confidence boost.
“(I’m) better equipped physically, mentally,” he said. “I have a better grasp of the offense now. But at the end of the day, it comes down to execution.”
He added: “Just understanding and coming to (grips) with the different ways that I can impact the game. It’s not always in the stat column, but there are certain things that I can do within our game plan, within the things that we do well, to make sure that the team is successful.”
When Gronkowski missed New England’s fifth game of the season with a thigh injury, Allen played 50 snaps but was not targeted in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played fewer than 30 percent of offensive snaps in each of the next four games but since has seen an uptick in playing time, playing around 50 percent of snaps in wins over the Oakland Raiders, Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
The victory over the Buccaneers kicked off an eight-game Patriots winning streak that remains intact. The list of players who have missed at least one of those games includes Gronkowski, linebacker Dont’a Hightower (now on injured reserve), cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, wide receiver Chris Hogan, center David Andrews, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle, defensive end Trey Flowers and special teamers Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater
“That’s just that next-man-up mentality,” Allen said. “Do you want to sit and cry over it or go out there and do whatever it takes to win? And that’s what the guys in this locker room continually (do) — we find a way to win.”
Thumbnail photo via Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports Images