FOXBOROUGH — Brandon Bolden has always embraced his role; one of those team-first, special teams' guy.
Last night, in vintage Bolden form, he shoved a blocker close to the New York Giants punter, which forced the kick into blocker's back and helmet area. The ball popped in air, into Chase Winovich's hands for an easy touchdown to open the scoring.
It's not really a surprise. The 29-year-old has been causing havoc on special teams for most of his seven NFL seasons.
But Bolden has added so much more six weeks into his return to the Patriots.
If you need someone to pick up a few tough yards on the ground, near the goal line, Bolden's your guy. If you need someone to return a kick, cover a return or run a good wheel-route to get open down field, Bolden's your guy.
"I honestly didn't give it any thought as far as what my role would be," Bolden said. "I expected to just come back into the same role and do whatever they asked me to do."
As it turned out, Bolden had a much bigger part to play.
Though still primarily a core special teamer, Bolden has emerged as a crucial part of the Patriots offense. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound running back has seen his playing time increase substantially after appearing in less than 5% of his team's offensive snaps over the past three seasons, and on Thursday he scored on a 1-yard rush for his third touchdown of the season, tying him for the team lead through six games.
"I don't know what you're talking about," deadpanned Bolden when asked about his touchdown total. "Just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get. The offense trusts me enough to throw me in there so just trying to do my job the best I can."
Bolden isn't relied upon to be a regular workhorse like Sony Michel or a featured pass catcher like James White, but his contributions tend to come in key spots. Two weeks ago in Buffalo his only offensive touch came on the goal line, when he rushed for a 4-yard touchdown to put New England in front early. Last week it was his 29-yard touchdown catch that gave New England some breathing room and ultimately helped spark the second-half rout of Washington.
And then, of course, he had the blocked punt on Thursday that set up rookie Chase Winovich's icebreaking special teams touchdown.
"He's always been a great resource for me," said Winovich, who regularly works with Bolden on special teams. "Anytime I'm ever on punts or I'm working along side of him on punt returns, it's a great feeling because he's just such a great player and he's so with it."
Where most position groups tend to stick together and have limited interaction with others, nearly everyone on the team has had an up close view of what Bolden brings to the table. Coach Bill Belichick described Bolden as a talented guy who can play on all four downs, and he made his opinion of Bolden clear when he offered him two-year deal to return this past offseason.
Now, Bolden is rewarding that investment with arguably the best season of his career.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.