Following a phenomenal game against the Buffalo Bills in which he recorded 159 all-purpose yards—many of which came on the Patriots’ game-winning drive—it seemed Shane Vereen was in line to be the starting running back in New England’s home opener against the New York Jets.
Not so, as it was later revealed Vereen persevered through a fractured wrist he suffered early in the game. Initially expected to miss a few weeks following surgery yesterday, it’s now being reported that he will be out for an extended period.
Vereen was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, which means he will miss eight weeks of action, and will be eligible to return Week 10 when the Patriots are on the bye.
As a result, Stevan Ridley will be back in the mix a lot sooner than anticipated. After coughing up the ball twice (although only one was officially ruled a fumble) on Sunday and subsequently being benched for the remainder of the game, Ridley realized he would need to earn back Belichick’s trust.
"I can’t blame anybody but myself," Ridley said. "I have to man up and come back to work. I’m just going to put my nose in the dirt and keep grinding, man, that’s all I can do."
And while the Patriots have three other running backs in LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and newly re-acquired Leon Washington as options out of the backfield, none of them fit the mold of lead-back.
Blount had an impressive rookie campaign, rushing for over 1,000 yards on 201 carries, but averaged just 391 yards his following two seasons.
Bolden and Washington don’t figure to be ideal alternatives either. Bolden—who was inactive Sunday— lacks the experience, and Washington is primarily a third-down back.
Although Bill Belichick for years has preached the "next man up," philosophy, it will be tough to replace Vereen, who was expected to fill the void left by Danny Woodhead.
Of the aforementioned running backs on the roster, Leon Washington is the only one with a similar skillset—though it has diminished with age—as Vereen. Expect him to get some reps on third down where we would normally see Vereen.
In the meantime it looks like Patriots nation will have to brace itself as Stevan Ridley—who had five fumbles last year (including postseason)—regains his job by default.