Aaron Hernandez and Albert Haynesworth return to lineup
|10.09.11 at 9:38 pm ET|
In a critical play at the end of the first half, tight end Aaron Hernandez looked a lot like a player who was just coming back from an injury.
With the Patriots at the Jets’ 11-yard line and less than 10 seconds left in the half, Tom Brady fired the ball to Hernandez in the front-left side of the end zone. The pass was right on target, but the ball bounced off Hernandez and went flying into the air, into the waiting hands of Jets’ cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was tackled near midfield to end the half.
So was Brady mad that Hernandez had caused him to throw the first red zone interception of his career at Gillette Stadium?
“No, [Brady] always is positive and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, let it go,'” Hernandez said. “As a player, you love the game, it hurts you. It’ll still bothers me until this night’s over. But like I said you have to turn your game around and bring it back next week.”
Yet for most of the game it was like Hernandez had never been out of the lineup. He was targeted a team-high nine times, hauling in five passes for 56 yards and was a component in the blocking game that sprung BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a career-high 136 rushing yards.
After missing New England’s last two games with an injured left knee, Hernandez was forced to wear a knee brace, which contributed to a slight hitch in his gait.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Hernandez said. “[The brace] slowed me down a little bit, but you don’t really think about it when you’re out there.”
Hernandez got some advice on wearing a brace from Wes Welker who had to wear one after he tore both his ACL and MCL at the end of the 2009 season.
“Wes told me it’s going to feel a little weird, but when you’re in the moment at a game with all them fans out there, national TV, you kind of forget about the brace,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez was on the field for 60 of the Patriots’ 72 offensive plays. He went to the locker room momentarily after coming down awkwardly when he tried to catch a jump ball in the second quarter, but he returned to play the rest of the game and reported no more issues with the knee after the game.
Hernandez’ return also gave the Patriots their full arsenal of receiving options, opening up the field for Brady and the offense. Welker caught five passes for 124 yards and was happy to have Hernandez back in the fold.
“Aaron is such a great player, anytime you can get more weapons out there on the field and more places that we can go with the ball, it’s always going to help us out,” Welker said. “It’s always great to get those weapons out there.”
Also returning after missing the last two games was Albert Haynesworth, who was held out with a back injury. Haynesworth played 18 snaps and looked winded at times, even cramping up at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But he was a presence for New England in the trenches when he was in the game.
“I just caught a little cramp, but nothing serious at all,” Haynesworth said. “I felt good being out there.”
The Patriots’ defense showed marked improvement from the first four weeks of the season, forcing seven three-and-outs on the Jets’ 12 possessions. New York had just 255 yards of total offense and made only two trips to the red zone in the game.
“We know we have the talent, we have all the parts, we just needed to put it together and that’s what we did,” Haynesworth said. “Some of you guys were saying that we didn’t have a shot because Jerod [Mayo] wasn’t out there but we wanted to step up and show that it was a good defense and no matter who comes in for him, they can play just as well.”