Patriots: Stepping Up!

Patriots RB Shane Vereen and TE Aaron Hernandez had a breakout game vs the Texans Sunday in Foxboro. New England rolled 41-28 by leaning on these two key playmakers.

     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 quarter.

     For those players who filled in, "those guys were prepared and a credit to everyone to be ready," said Belichick.

     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 to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin ( on Facebook ).

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