Once the Patriots lost tight end Aaron Hernandez, all eyes in New England shifted to Vereen as a breakout player.
A gifted runner blessed with outstanding hands and field awareness, he was the logical choice to pick up the slack, not just for Hernandez but for the departed Danny Woodhead as well.
When Stevan Ridley fumbled in Week 1, Vereen stepped in and shredded the Bills for 159 total yards on 21 touches. He seemed on the verge of overtaking Ridley in the running back pecking order and was emerging into the most versatile and dynamic weapon on offense.
Unbeknownst to fans at the time, he played the whole game with a broken wrist, which forced him to miss the next eight games.
During that time the Patriots struggled in the passing game, and Brady was visibly frustrated without a reliable safety net. Much was made of Rob Gronkowski’s longer-than-expected absence, but as NESN’s Doug Kyed detailed, Brady has actually felt the effects of Vereen’s absence even more.
Per Kyed, Brady’s passing yards, quarterback rating and TD-to-INT ratio during contests in which he was missing either of his best playmakers all point to Vereen a more profound impact on the offense than Gronk.
With Gronkowski now on injured reserve, Vereen’s health and continued productivity will be paramount to New England’s playoff success.