BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots had a game plan heading into Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans, but as usual, the game itself didn’t follow suit.
But that was no issue for the Patriots.
That original game plan involved running back Danny Woodhead, who has given the Patriots plenty of big plays this season. But that plan went by the way-side after Woodhead went down with a thumb injury on their first offensive play of the game, so someone else had to step in and fill the void.
That someone was second-year back Shane Vereen, who went on to have a breakout game in leading New England to a 41-28 victory and the AFC Championship game for the second-straight season.
Vereen did it all in his first playoff game, rushing for 41 yards and a touchdown while adding five receptions (a career-high) for 83 yards and two scores.
“I don’t come into the game knowing how much anyone is going to play. I come into the game ready to go and if my number is called I do my best for the team,” Vereen said after the game. “We hate to lose Woody. He is such a key part of our offense, but at the same time all of the running backs hold ourselves accountable to be able to step up when somebody does go down.”
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“Shane had a great game. Really just a huge growing up moment for him, so very special,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Vereen, a second-round pick out of Cal in the 2011 draft. “It was for everybody. There were a lot of guys that made a lot of plays. We needed it. It was a good football team with a lot of good plays, but we have another one coming in next week.”
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Vereen became just the third player in Patriots’ team history to score three touchdowns in a playoff game, joining Rob Gronkowski and Curtis Martin in that illustrious group.
While Vereen may have been an unexpected contributor to some, the New England offensive line wasn’t surprised at the break-out performance.
“You practice certain things, so you know the qualities of the runners you have,” explained tackle Sebastian Vollmer. “Once again, I’m happy for him and I think he produced today, and we see that at practice.”
“We have a lot of faith in those guys and they did a great job,” guard Logan Mankins said of Vereen and fellow back Stevan Ridley — who added 82 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own. “Vereen had some nice runs and that awesome catch – that was a heck of a catch. You see Ridley how hard he was running in the fourth quarter trying to move the pile, trying to get first downs, so those guys did a good job.”
Vereen scored two of his touchdowns in the first half, but added an amazing 33-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter to put New England up 38-13. He went left our of the back field, drawing single coverage from Houston, so Brady hurled it up his way along the sideline and Vereen took care of the rest.
“It was a play we put in earlier this week,” he said after the game. “We had (practiced) it a couple times, and when my number was called I was able to get open.”
“He’s done it in practice and he’s the person that works hard and does his job,” tight end Aaron Hernandez said of Vereen’s performance. “When his number was called, he made a play and showed what type of player he is.”
Now, the Patriots will begin game-planning for the Baltimore Ravens once again. Woodhead is expected to be OK and good-to-go for Sunday, but Vereen will likely become part of the game plan following his performance against Houston.
After he was forced to be a spectator for last year’s run to the Super Bowl due to a hamstring injury, Vereen is looking forward to getting a chance to play in the AFC Championship this time around.
“It is going to be a great match up. It always is between us and the Ravens,” said Vereen. “We are going to have to go to work this week and get ready to play a great team.”
Tune in to the AFC Championship game on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV on Sunday afternoon at 6:30pm! Pregame coverage begins on WBZ with Patriots GameDay at 11:30am, and at 3pm on 98.5 with Patriots Preview. Following the game, tune in to three hours of coverage on the Sports Hub, and to Patriots 5th Quarter over on myTV38.