Danny Woodhead injured his thumb on the first play. On the next drive, Rob Gronkowski hurt his surgically repaired left forearm. Both were expected to play large roles in the offense for the remainder of the playoffs.
This would had been a crisis for many teams. For the Patriots, it was just next man up.
Those three words have become part of The Patriot Way. Like “Do Your Job,” “Next Man Up” is a simple and definitive instruction for all players to follow, integral to New England's philosophy.
It was repeated over and over like a song’s chorus by the players in 2012 as injuries, suspensions and poor performance required the next player in line to step in and capably fill in. The team hasn’t missed a beat.
Solid play from reserves has become what’s expected of a New England player when their name is called. Depth is a necessity in the NFL and the Patriots were built well with that in mind.
With Woodhead held out, Shane Vereen took over and responded with 124 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Next man up means no excuses. No matter what the position is or how far down the depth chart a player is, everyone prepares like they expect to play. When a player's number is called, he’s not overwhelmed by being thrust into the situation.
The Patriots lived up to the maxim. New England overcame the loss of keys players repeatedly over the course of the season. In every situation, the players tabbed to shoulder the load handled the responsibilities with barely any drop in production following the transition.
Can the Patriots' offense continue to roll in the playoffs without Rob Gronkowski?
The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for making the right adjustments and preparing all the players thoroughly. Few had any faith in tackle Marcus Cannon after he appeared overwhelmed during the preseason. But when he had to start Week 12 for right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, the offense rolled up 475 total yards and zero sacks allowed against the New York Jets.
Next Man Up.
Every resource is used to find the next man up, whether the player was drafted, undrafted, or acquired in a trade.
Arguably no player had a greater impact on the team than CB Aqib Talib. By trading a 2013 fourth-round draft pick to Tampa Bay, New England shored up their secondary. Talib’s arrival also allowed defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to run his defense more aggressively.
Talib’s arrival, along with the promotion of CB Alfonzo Dennard, allowed Devin McCourty to move from cornerback to safety full-time and shifted Kyle Arrington from starting outside to the slot.
The result has been more blitzing and an improved third down defense. After allowing 42.6 percent on third downs after eight games, the Patriots were 37.5 percent in the final eight and 4-for-15 against the Texans in the playoff win.
All over the team are examples of players living up to Next Man Up.
DE Jermaine Cunningham suspended for PEDs, so Trevor Scott comes in and gets three sacks. Rookie DE Chandler Jones sidelined with an ankle injury. No problem. Justin Francis receives more playing time and tallies three sacks himself against Miami.
WR Julian Edelman goes on injured reserve; Donte’ Stallworth comes back and catches a 63-yard touchdown pass against the Texans.
Wear and tear on MLB Brandon Spikes kept him off the field against Jacksonville, so starting DE Rob Ninkovich takes some snaps at middle linebacker.
After such seamless transitions, Vereen’s playoff performance shouldn’t have come as a total surprise. He’s been RB Stevan Ridley’s back-up ever since Brandon Bolden was suspended for performance enhancing drug use.
Now Vereen is Ridley’s back-up. Bolden must wait for his number to be called. If a running back gets hurt or fumbles the ball, Bolden knows what he has to do.
Next Man Up.
It could be anyone. He will be ready.
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