As if New England Patriots fans don’t already have enough reasons to despise the New York Jets, it was learned before last Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills that Kevin Faulk would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. And who injured him? A Jet, of course, and defensive back Drew Coleman in particular, during the fourth quarter of the Jets’ 28-14 win over the Patriots two weekends ago. It wasn’t intentional, but it still stings. That’s football.
The 12-year all-purpose Patriot was named one of four co-captains this year (two offense, two defense), and his loss is a big one for the Pats. Faulk was a reliable special teams player and pass-catching running back for all of Tom Brady’s career–he’s the only Patriot who’s tenure with the team predates the Bill Belichick era. He took on several assignments to help the Patriots win three Super Bowls and countless other games, including punt returns on special teams, being a check down receiver on third down, and a sneaky running back when needed.
It sort of annoys me that people are asking only how the Pats will replace Faulk’s third down heroics. Sure, he’s had some memorable catches on that crucial down over the years, whether it was during the Patriots’ first Super Bowl run in 2001-2002 or as recent as week one this season against Cincinnati.
But Faulk was much more valuable to the team than on just third down. You don’t get to be the Patriots all-time leader in all-purpose yards (12,140), first in kickoff return yards (4,098), fourth in receptions (418), fifth in rushing (3,505) and sixth in punt return yards (932) by being primarily called upon on third down. That said, how will the Pats fill this void?
If last Sunday’s 38-30 win against Buffalo is any indication, the Pats aren’t going to really try and fill his role with the team with any one individual. Wes Welker, who catches everything in sight on any down, will most likely take up the much talked about role of clutch third down catches, as Brady went to him a few times on this down at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, with success most of the time. Wide receiver/punt returner Julian Edelman could also provide the occasional sparkling catch on any down if Randy Moss and Welker aren’t open for Brady.
The 34-year-old’s kick and punt return duties have been replaced by younger players like special teams budding star and wide receiver Brandon Tate. But his (sparse) running back duties will now likely go to a mix of players, including Sammy Morris, newly signed (and ex-Jet) Danny Woodhead, who scored a touchdown in his Patriots debut Sunday, and maybe others as game situations (and maybe more injuries) mount up.
There is one thing that no Patriot can ever replace about Kevin Faulk, however. And that’s his leadership skills.
There’s a reason he was picked alongside Tom Brady to be co-captains of the offense. Not even 24 hours after his devastating injury took place, Faulk showed up at the Monday morning team meeting the next day, and was there before anyone else. By just being there, he made the point that he will be there for his teammates, whether he’s able to play football or not.
Though he won’t be on the field again until 2011, Faulk can still mentor young developing players, including Benjarvus Green-Ellis (who ran for 98 yards against the Bills last weekend) and Julian Edelman. For that, Faulk’s contribution to the New England Patriots is invaluable and lives on.
Photo credit: Washington Post