Evans Comes Up Big
By Site Staff
The Patriots seem to have found at least a temporary solution to their running game woes. And it came from an odd source -- new fullback Heath Evans, who rushed for 84 yards on 17 carries against the Dolphins.
Evans, who was cut by Miami on Oct. 25 and signed with the Patriots a week later, surprised his old team by ripping off a 21-yard run on the Patriots' second play from scrimmage. "My first carry, I saw that hole, I couldn't believe it," said Evans, who had totaled just 108 rushing yards on 33 carries in his first four NFL seasons, split between Seattle (2001-04) and Miami (2005). "I've never seen a hole that big in the NFL."
Evans, who had carried only once (for no gain) in six games with the Dolphins, later had a pair of 14-yard rushes and burrowed in for a two-point conversion on the Patriots' go-ahead touchdown with 2:16 remaining in regulation. His 84-yard total was the second best by a Patriots back this season, behind only Corey Dillon's 106-yard effort in Atlanta in Week 5.
"They had a good plan in the running game," Dolphins defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "But who would have ever thought it would be Heath?"
Evans saw his first significant offensive action because Dillon's injury problems continued. This time he hurt his right calf on the Patriots' first play and did not return. Dillon, whose father died last week, has been bothered by a sore ankle for several weeks. This was the second game this season for which he dressed but did not record a carry.
"I'm disappointed I'm not able to do what I should be doing," said Dillon, who has just 441 rushing yards this season. "I'm more frustrated with that than anything."
With backup running back Kevin Faulk (foot) and starting fullback Patrick Pass (hamstring) also out, Evans provided a nice pick-me-up for New England's running game. The Patriots could opt to sit Dillon for at least this week's game against New Orleans' 30th-ranked run defense, hoping to get him healthy for the stretch run.
--Coach Bill Belichick had no update on the condition of center Dan Koppen, who injured his left arm late in the third quarter against Miami and did not return. Koppen was replaced by Russ Hochstein, who filled in for Damien Woody at left guard during the 2003 playoffs.
Including the postseason, Koppen has started 46 straight games at center. That's the second-longest streak on the team behind quarterback Tom Brady (80). Koppen's absence would be a further blow to an offensive line that has played without left tackle Matt Light (broken right leg) for six games and was without right tackle Tom Ashworth (knee) against Miami. The Patriots start two rookies on the left side of the line, so Koppen's experience is invaluable.
"The center in any NFL offensive system has a certain degree of control over the offensive line," Belichick said. "Dan does a good job of that. Russ has good experience in our system, too. That's part of the position. It's almost like a quarterback. If you're the quarterback, you're calling signals. If you're the center, you're making line calls."
--WR Tim Dwight has made the most of his 11 catches this season. Dwight has been on the receiving end of the second- and fifth-longest passing plays for the Patriots -- a 59-yarder against Miami on Sunday and a 49-yarder against Denver in Week 6. Dwight also had a 30-yard pickup against San Diego and a 24-yarder against Carolina. For the season, the veteran free agent has 11 catches for 203 yards, giving him a team-high average of 18.5 yards per catch. Fellow speedster Bethel Johnson is second at 16.8 yards.
Dwight's grab against the Dolphins set up Benjamin Watson's winning TD with 2:16 left. Dwight and cornerback Reggie Howard both had their hands on the pass, but Dwight pulled the ball in and ran all the way down to the Miami 17.
"Tim did a nice job," Belichick said. "He just kind of ripped it away."
--WR Troy Brown saw his first action on defense this season, playing cornerback in sub packages. He played extensively there last season.
--K Adam Vinatieri played in his 153rd consecutive regular-season game, passing former K/WR Gino Cappelletti to move into sole possession of second place on the team's all-time list. Vinatieri now trails only former CB Raymond Clayborn (161 straight from 1977-87).
--SS Michael Stone became the Patriots' sixth starter at that position this season. It was his first career start.
--CB Ellis Hobbs, a rookie, had his first interception and first two fumble recoveries in his first NFL start. One of the recoveries came on his own interception return.
--QB Tom Brady's third-quarter interception (his first of two in the game) ended his streak of 121 straight passes without an INT.
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