Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) reacts against the Houston Texans during the first half of the AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Find Surprising Heroes to get to AFC Championship

New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) was the latest Pat to step up in place of an injured teammate. The Patriots continue to overcome a slew of injuries and march through the NFL Playoffs. Photo by Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots could have been in trouble after losing Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead, and Chandler Jones to injury in their game. All year though, the Pats have dealt with injuries and were ready to adapt and overcome. Tom Brady has lived on the injury report and has been probable for the entire second-half of his career, but in addition to the Belichickian subterfuge the Pats have had key players miss real-time this year.

Whenever any team wins they make the obligatory “overcoming adversity” speech, but New England seems to have had more than their share of it this year. Look at who missed games this year:


Week 1 Shane Vereen, Alfonzo Dennard
Week 2 Shane Vereen, Alfonzo Dennard
Week 3 Aaron Hernandez, Shane Vereen, Alfonzo Dennard
Week 4 Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, Alfonzo Dennard
Week 5 Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, Steve Gregory
Week 6 Julian Edelman, Steve Gregory
Week 7 Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory
Week 8 Aaron Hernandez, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory
Week 9 BYE WEEK
Week 10 Aaron Hernandez, Patrick Chung
Week 11 Aaron Hernandez, Patrick Chung
Week 12 Rob Gronkowski, Chandler Jones
Week 13 Rob Gronkowski, Chandler Jones
Week 14 Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman
Week 15 Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Alfonzo Dennard
Week 16 Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Alfonzo Dennard
Week 17 Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, Alfonzo Dennard

That doesn’t include the mixing and matching the team has had to do up front with Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins missing games or the losses of Will Allen, Dane Fletcher, Jake Ballard, and Myron Pryor to IR.

As has become the norm almost to point of cliche with Belichick though, the players who have stepped in have simply done their job and stepped their games up to cover for the multiple injuries. While the defensive secondary has suffered at times, the depth gained from losing those players early is paying off now.

Yesterday, it was running back Shane Vereen who burst into the spotlight with a huge game. Vereen had 41 yards rushing on seven carries and a touchdown while adding 83 yards on five catches and two more scores. He joined only Curtis Martin and Rob Gronkowski as Patriots with three touchdowns in a playoff game. Vereen took over the third-down back role vacated by Woodhead and provided solid play-making ability exploiting mismatches when he got them.

Another fill-in who stepped up when in mismatches was Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is an extremely effective pass-catching tight end who sometimes gets lost in Gronk’s shadow. He is less of a factor in run blocking, but he managed to catch six of his nine targets for 85 yards and a touchdown of his own.

As the Patriots exemplify, building a deep roster is paramount to success in today’s NFL. Every roster spot, free agent acquisition, practice squad member, and draft pick can prove vital with just one injury. Teams need to be able to overcome loss of stars by finding players that can contribute when called upon.

The Patriots have shown the ability to build their roster that way which is why they continually are in this spot. (The same could be said of their opponent on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens).

Losing Gronk will definitely hurt the Pats offense, but it won’t be a whole new world to this offense. They’ve played hardly any games with all their weapons healthy so adapting to the loss won’t be unfamiliar territory.

Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) scrambles from pressure during the second half of the AFC divisional round playoff game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 41-28. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Unless Tom Brady goes down, I don’t see these injuries costing the Pats a shot at the Super Bowl. These injuries are nothing new for New England, and they’re well-prepared to keep rolling as they host Baltimore in what should be an incredibly entertaining AFC Championship.

Tags: Bill Belichick Injury New England Patriots NFL Playoffs Rob Gronkowski

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