FOXBORO — Shane Vereen entered yesterday’s game an NFL afterthought.
In just his second NFL season, after being selected in the second round of the 2011 Draft, Vereen had been relegated to special teams duty and at times was listed as the Pats’ No. 4 back on the depth chart.
So who could have known, with a trip to the AFC Championship Game on the line, Vereen would deliver the performance of his life.
“It was a fun day,” said Vereen with a smile that could have lit Gillette Stadium. “Everything was on the line and I was expected to perform. When my number was called I was ready.”
Ready Vereen was.
The halfback scored a career-high three touchdowns, one less than his season total, and finished with 124 yards combined rushing and receiving, the second most of his career, proving a key catalyst in the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional round.
The win earned the Pats a berth in the AFC title game, back at Gillette on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
“Shane was a young man whose number was called and he was ready,” said receiver/special teams ace Matt Slater. “He was a true professional that prepared himself every day, and when we needed him he was a huge boost.”
Heading into the day, most would have placed Vereen’s chances of being the game’s MVP somewhere behind seldom-used Deion Branch and just slightly ahead of Tedy Bruschi, who of course retired three seasons ago.
But when Mr. Everything Danny Woodhead went down on the game’s first play with a thumb injury, Vereen found himself as the go-to speed back.
Then, when Rob Gronkowski left with an arm injury a possession later, the Patriots were badly in need of a playmaker.