The New England Patriots have plenty of players to thank for their victory in the Super Bowl last season. Quarterback Tom Brady was nearly flawless in the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Julian Edelman had never been better. Cornerback Malcolm Butler changed the outcome of the game.
But with so many great story lines from the game, one managed to fly under the radar from this perspective. Running back Shane Vereen put on one of the finest performances of his career and his 11 receptions tied Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Jerry Rice, and Dan Ross for the second most in Super Bowl history, behind the Broncos Demaryius Thomas' 13 catches in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In addition to the 11 receptions, Vereen picked up four carries for a total of 15 touches. It was the sixth most touches in his career, and the five better all have their own stories.
There was week 1 in 2013 against the Bills where Vereen played through a broken wrist to collect 159 yards on a career high 21 touches. There were the regular season games against the Broncos in both 2013 (the Wind Game) and 2014, where Vereen had 18 and 16 touches, respectively. He had 16 touches in week 7 of 2014 against the Jets, the first game after Stevan Ridley's season ending injury, where Vereen kicked down the door after scoring a touchdown. And there was another 16 touch game against the then-#1 ranked Lions defense in 2014.
Vereen's performance in the Super Bowl was exactly why the Patriots drafted him as his receptions picked up crucial first down after crucial first down. Vereen is now a member of the New York Giants.
The running back's Super Bowl heroics won't soon be forgotten, because it's those very skills that the Patriots are now trying to defend.
"We know Vereen," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said in a conference call. "We've been familiar with him. He brings a different element from a running style and some quickness and some ability to make guys miss and operate in space."
"He's quick, athletic, obviously catches the ball well," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick agreed. "[Vereen] has given them some plays in the return game, kickoff returns, so he's used primarily as a sub-type back, third down, two minute, although he's in there in some other situations, too - it's not exclusive - and also kickoff returns. I'd say pretty much the same player that we saw here doing similar things and doing them well."
"I think the role [with the Giants compared to with the Patriots] is very similar in the sense to where it's a starting point, a similar off-speed type back catching the ball in the back field," Vereen agreed.
"Protection is number one," the running back added. "After that can you catch the ball."
Vereen ranks third on the Giants in yards from scrimmage, so the Patriots will certainly be giving him focus at all times. New England knows better than any other team what the running back is capable of accomplishing on the field.