|Shane Vereen’s record day leads Patriots to thrilling win over Browns||12.08.13 at 8:11 pm ET|
FOXBORO – With the Patriots losing tight end Rob Gronksowski midway through the third quarter with a serious right knee injury after just two catches for 32 yards and the Browns limiting Danny Amendola to four catches for 36 yards, the team needed someone to step up in the passing game.
The spark they needed came from running back Shane Vereen, whose 12 catches for 153 yards set team records for a running back in the Patriots’ wild, come-from-behind, 27-26 win over the Browns.
The third-year running back out of California has made a significant comeback after playing sparingly in his first two seasons.
In Vereen’s four games since returning from a broken wrist, quarterback Tom Brady has targeted him 45 times and has been successful on 33 of them (73 percent), clearly demonstrating an increase in chemistry. In his five games overall this season, Vereen is averaging 7.2 yards per touch and is currently two rushes away from being the third running back in Bill Belichick‘s tenure in New England to reach the 40-rush/40-catch mark in a season. The other two are Danny Woodhead last year and Kevin Faulk in 2008.
“Helping the team win,” Vereen said of the biggest factor in his career-high for receiving yards. “I mean, if I had to catch the ball in order for us to win the game and make some plays throughout the year, then that’s what, hopefully, I’ll be able to do going forward. Really, it’s all about the team and it’s all about getting a victory.”
Vereen almost singlehandedly gave the Patriots a huge lift after they were seemingly knocked out late in the third quarter. After the Patriots scored their first points of the day, a 33-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 1:37 left in the third, the Browns immediately responded with a 80-yard touchdown reception from Josh Gordon on the next play from scrimmage making it a 19-3 game.
Then, led by Vereen, the Patriots responded just 1:19 later with a 6-yard Vereen touchdown run, which was set up by a 50-yard reception from the Patriots running back up the left side, followed by another reception for 16 yards over the middle on the next play.
For Vereen, it’s been an up-and-down first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round in 2011. After missing time due to a few injuries, he’s now getting more action of late and is making the most of his opportunities.
“Shane, the more opportunity he’s gotten, the more he’s been able to do for us,” Belichick said. “In his rookie year, in the Kansas City game, [in] limited chances he had that year, he was productive. Last year we had some depth in our backfield. When he got an opportunity to play, he did a good job. He obviously had a great game in Buffalo and then missed the next eight weeks. When he’s been in there, he’s been pretty productive for us.”
|Fantasy Football: Week 15 starts, sits||12.06.13 at 12:35 pm ET|
Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits! It’s playoff time and I’ve done my best to distill the talent pool for you. If your key player is not covered here, check out our full lineup rankings over at Rotobahn or participate in our Sunday morning chat, where I will answer all of your remaining lineup questions. Best of luck to all this week!
Josh McCown, Bears vs. Cowboys
He’s far better than most folks, including us, ever expected. He will get at least one more start, and that start comes at home vs. a struggling Dallas defense that has been giving up plenty of fantasy points. I know it’s tough starting a journeyman in the playoffs, but if you are jammed with an injury to a guy like Aaron Rodgers, McCown may be the bridge to Rodgers and an appearance in the semifinals next week. Do not be afraid to play McCown.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Dolphins
It’s not a great week for quarterbacks, but Big Ben should give you some solid production in a home matchup against a beatable opponent. The big game is a possibility, but it’s the solid floor that I find most appealing. He’s a good option in any league.
Philip Rivers, Chargers at Giants
Rivers is a safe option this week. You beat the Giants by throwing the ball, so expect a few scores and solid yardage and perhaps a big game if New York can score enough points to push the San Diego offense for four quarters. Rivers has had some mediocre games but no killers. He should come in somewhere between 16-30 points this week in standard scoring.
Alex Smith, Chiefs at Redskins
He’s been better for fantasy than I ever thought he’d be. It’s pretty amazing when you consider how poor Kansas City’s downfield passing game is. Smith makes plays every week with his feet and his arm, and his receivers get yards after the catch, especially Jamaal Charles. Smith can start for you this week if you need him, and he’ll most likely fare well against a soft Redskins defense.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks at 49ers
Curse the schedule-maker! Is there anything worse than having your QB1 playing at San Francisco during wild card week? Here’s the skinny on Wilson: You can play him, but you should also consider other options. Based on what we saw last week when St. Louis played San Francisco, he has a chance, because Kellen Clemens missed a lot of throws — throws that Wilson will not miss. So Wilson can be played, just be realistic with your expectations. If he gets you 20 points in standard leagues, you did well.
|Shane Vereen on Stevan Ridley: ‘We’re there when he needs us’||12.05.13 at 2:47 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Shane Vereen has the back of teammate Stevan Ridley.
Both running backs came into the league in 2011. Both have battled issues at one point or another. Injuries limited Vereen to just five games in his rookie season of 2011 while a broken wrist in the season opener forced him to miss eight games this season.
But now it’s Ridley who is struggling to find the field. Ridley has lost all four of his fumbles this season and was benched for the game in Houston on Sunday. After Ridley declined to speak with reporters on Thursday, Vereen moments later came to his defense.
“Everybody goes through their ups and downs, and when you’re down, you need teammates, you need friends to help bring you back to where you should be and start playing with confidence again,” Vereen said. “Stevan is a great player. We’re there when he needs us. But he knows what he has to do and we fully expect him to do that.”
While Vereen is fourth in rushing yardage behind Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden, he is the No. 1 receiver among the running backs corps with 28 catches for 220 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve definitely got work to do, but we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good situation, but there’s room to improve,” Vereen said. “We need to improve if we want to continue playing.”
Ridley also said on Thursday that he feels good and the wrist injury is no longer an issue, despite still wearing a brace for games.
“I haven’t had any problems with it, haven’t had any issues with it,” Vereen said. “Really, there’s not too much thought about it at all.”
|Fantasy Football: Week 14 waiver wire||12.03.13 at 10:20 am ET|
As we look toward what is a playoff week in most fantasy football formats, there certainly are a few solid new options to consider adding. The sad reality is that half of the teams in most leagues just got sent packing, and that obviously cuts down on the competition for talent. Hence, we are concentrating on the better players vs. the depth moves, but we still have a little of both.
If you are looking for deeper options, you can head over to Rotobahn later Tuesday and check out my expanded wire for those in deep formats. As always, I’ll be back later this week with Jim Hackett for the Fantasy Football Podcast, plus the starts and sits. Then, on Sunday, I’ll be hosting a chat to help with any last-minute lineup issues that you might have. To those of you reading this, please accept our congratulations on making your league’s playoffs. Now let’s see if we can bring home the fantasy bacon!
Andy Dalton, Bengals
He’s available in about 25 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and that percentage could rise after the stinker that Dalton had in Week 13. Still, we like Dalton’s Week 14 matchup, and Week 16 is pretty sweet, too.
- Week 14 – Colts
- Week 15 – at Steelers
- Week 16 – Vikings
Joe Flacco, Ravens
He plays at home vs. the Vikings this week, and that could be enough to make him a great add. As an added bonus, he’s playable on all three remaining weeks. In Week 14, Flacco may also see the return of his favorite target, Dennis Pitta.
- Week 14 – Vikings
- Week 15 – at Lions
- Week 16 – Patriots
Carson Palmer, Cardinals
He can’t help you Week 16, but he’ll be useful this week and next. Palmer has been very good lately, with multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games. He can help you as a QB2 in most leagues, and you can still add him in 54 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
- Week 14 – Rams
- Week 15 – at Titans
- Week 16 – at Seahawks
EJ Manuel, Bills
He plays a solid, though not incredible, schedule the rest of the way, and he’s been getting better in terms of health. Manuel also has scored well the last two weeks, so he can help you if you need to add a QB2 in a 12-team league. His receivers are healthy and he now has C.J. Spiller ripping off big runs, and that could take the edge off of the pass rush going forward.
- Week 14 – at Buccaneers
- Week 15 – at Jaguars
- Week 16 – Dolphins
|Stevan Ridley on his fumble crisis: ‘It’s sickening’||11.25.13 at 2:56 am ET|
FOXBORO — The fumble crisis is getting out of control for Stevan Ridley. He knows full well he has to find a way to stop fumbling – and soon – if he wants to hold onto his job as lead running back with the Patriots. He admitted as much after his latest calamity Sunday night.
On the Patriots first drive of the night, with the Patriots driving into Broncos territory, Ridley lost his fourth fumble of the season. Making matters worse, when Wesley Woodyard popped his helmet on the ball, the ball flew out and Von Miller was on the spot to scoop it up and rumble 60 yards for the first score of the game.
The Patriots would lose two more fumbles in the quarter and fall behind 17-0 after 15 minutes and 24-0 at the half. But it was Ridley’s fumble that would set the ill tone.
“It’s really about the team and how they came back from this deficit tonight,” Ridley said afterward. “We were down 24 points and they fought back. For me, I think my team deserves better than what I’m doing out there and putting on the field. It’s been consecutive weeks with putting the ball on the ground and, as a running back, you can’t do that. I’ve said that multiple times. I work too hard to make the small mistakes and I keep setting myself back and setting this team back.
“The offense depends on me and to go out there and get the job done and when I put the ball on the ground they have no option but to take me out and it’s sickening, honestly, I’m frustrated, but it’s part of the game. I think that as a player you’re going to have your ups and your downs, but the main thing is you just have to stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize at the end of the day. I’m not going to get too far down. I’m going to put a little more pressure on myself to go out there and practice and try to change up some things because I can’t keep doing this and it’s sickening.”
LeGarrette Blount also lost a fumble in the first half as the Patriots scrambled for someone reliable to carry the ball. Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen stepped up and combined for 23 carries and 89 yards.
“It shows the strength of our run,” Ridley said. “We’ve been talking about that since early in camp and for us, we need to have players step up when somebody goes down, so we did some things and shot ourselves in the foot and they did [Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen] exactly what I expected them to do. If they have to go with another guy and those guys stepped up and got it done and that’s what a team is about. And that’s what we have here is two guys that stepped in and played the role exactly how they’re supposed to.”
|Tom Brady thinks Pats are ‘doing a little better’ spreading the wealth||11.21.13 at 12:04 pm ET|
FOXBORO — When dropping back to pass, Tom Brady has always used one principle in particular to guide his approach: Throw it to the open man.
That hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do in the first nine games as he was missing key parts of his arsenal at times, and appeared like a quarterback who sometimes tried to force the ball into narrow windows. But last Monday marked the first game he has had his full complement of receivers.
With Shane Vereen returning, Brady had Vereen, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola at his disposal, and made use of all of them. Throw in rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, and you begin to see the great potential for Brady to spread the ball around and “throw it to the open man.”
“We’re doing a little bit better in that sense,” Brady said. “I think our execution has gotten better over the course of the year and we have made a bunch of improvements. KT came in and what KT did the other night, I wasn’t sure how much he was going to play, [but he] made a couple huge plays in the game. You know, Aaron Dobson has done a great job. Julian’s continued to be a steady, solid, dependable player for us and then like you said Danny, Gronk, Shane. LeGarrette [Blount] ran hard, Rid [Stevan Ridley] runs hard. We’ve got a good group. We’ve got a good group. We’re getting better, so that is what I am excited about.”
While it may not compare on paper yet, that quartet could wind up being just as productive as Denver’s grouping of Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker.
All Brady has to do know, is start spreading the wealth and hope his receiving corps can stay on the field.
Thirteen different receivers have caught passes from Brady this season, led by Edelman’s 52 for 500 yards. How diversified is the passing game now? Vereen led all receivers on Monday with eight catches on 11 targets for 65 yards.
“Julian has had some production outside. Danny’s had good production when he’s been in there,” Brady added. “We’re trying to spread it around to find different guys. Typically whoever is open gets it. I think that spot has always been big in our offense. The tight end spot has always been a productive spot. But yeah, I think we overall can all do a better job. We’re going to need to going forward, this week especially. All those spots: the slot spot, the tailback spot, this is a team where we know we’re going to need to score some points.”
If you add catch totals of Amendola and Edelman, you get 81 catches for 841 yards but only three touchdowns. Welker enters Sunday with 61 catches for 648 yards but triple the number of touchdowns of Amendola and Edelman combined with nine.
“I haven’t really thought about it – I haven’t put too much into that or evaluated that spot,” Brady said when asked to compare the Patriots and Broncos slot positions. “I’d say our offense right now is very different than it’s ever been in the past. Everything that we do has a different feel to it. We’ve had so many new players, like every team has new players, but we have a lot of new players. We have different schemes; we’re trying to find different things that work. For the first time last week, we basically had guys healthy so we don’t even know what we’re good at at this point. We’re trying to figure out – we only scored 20 points so whatever we did couldn’t have been that good. We’re going to try to find ways to score more points than that this week.”
|Shane Vereen: ‘I was ecstatic’ to be back on field against Panthers||11.20.13 at 3:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A transformative offensive presence, Shane Vereen provided a spark for the Patriots offense when he returned to the field Monday night against the Panthers. The running back, who had been sidelined since Week 1 because of a wrist injury he suffered in a win over the Bills, had eight catches for 65 yards and one carry for seven yards in the loss in Carolina.
Vereen, who said he didn’t feel limited in what he could do, was on the field for 34 of a possible 72 snaps, according to numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus.
“I was ecstatic,” he said following practice on Wednesday. “I’ve been away a long time, and just to be out there with the guys and the team and feel like a part of the team again and feel that I could contribute, it was awesome.
“I just concentrated on what I needed to do, personally — my assignment on each play,” he added. “I had to kind of calm myself down and take it slow. I really took the game at a slower rate mentally so I didn’t overwhelm myself with the excitement and everything going on.”
This season has been a difficult one for Vereen, who has struggled with injury in the past. He spent a large portion of his rookie season on the shelf because of a hamstring problem.
“It’s tough. Real tough,” he said when asked about his time on the sideline. “Nobody likes being injured, and especially, someone who has been injured as much as I have. It was tough, seeing my team out there and I couldn’t participate, but I’m back now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get better every week.
“[But] mentally, I think I was able to stay very close to the game. Able to stay very close within our scheme — our offense. That way, when I did come back, I was still up to date with everything.”
Against Carolina, Vereen seemed to slide back into the role of third-down presence, a role that he appeared well on his way to filling when the Patriots allowed Danny Woodhead to walk as a free agent this past offseason. It’s an important part of the New England offense — without Vereen for much of the first half of the season, the Patriots had struggled on third down. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Vereen play a sizable part in helping move the chains against the Panthers, as seven of his touches went for first downs, with three of those coming in third-down situations.
“He has really emerged and developed into that role,” said quarterback Tom Brady when asked about Vereen’s emergence as the third-down back. “He got to learn from Kevin [Faulk] for a little bit and you know Danny Woodhead was here to help last year, but he has really taken it on this year. I think the best part is he really understands the importance and magnitude of that role and takes a lot of pride in it.
“You’ve seen what he’s capable of in the first week of the year and last week. He gets single coverage, he gets out. It’s a difficult position because there’s blocking, you have to run the ball, you’ve got to get your blitz pickup, you’ve got to get out into the route, you’ve got to get open, you’ve got to catch the ball, and you’ve got to do something with it. He can do all those things, so he is a very, very good football player.”
While Vereen acknowledges that third down is his primary job, it doesn’t mean that’s how he should ultimately be defined.
“I think each week your role changes based on the defense you’re playing, based on the offensive game plan,” he said. “I wouldn’t say any role is harder than any other role. I would say that whatever they ask you to do, you rep it and you’re accountable for that responsibility.”
Ultimately, Vereen is excited about being part of a New England offense that suddenly has a ton of its elite-level options — including Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola — nearing full strength as the stretch run looms.
“It’s exciting. It’s exciting to get everybody back on the field at the same time,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do and moving forward, hopefully, we’ll be able to put a better product on the field.”
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