FOXBOROUGH — When the Patriots decided to bench Stevan Ridley after his lost fumble in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Bills, fellow third-year running back Shane Vereen rose to the occasion.
Vereen totaled 159 yards from scrimmage, including a career-best 101 yards rushing on just 14 carries, and seven receptions for 58 yards.
But on Monday afternoon, Fox Sports reported that Vereen broke a small bone in his wrist and is expected to miss “a few weeks.”
Vereen suffered the injury on his first snap but played the entire game. He experienced numbness afterward, as the affected bone sits on a nerve.
A league source confirmed that Vereen underwent surgery to repair the break Monday.
After the game, Vereen looked weary, and put on his socks with only one hand; at the time, it seemed curious, but now it makes sense that Vereen wasn’t really able to use his other hand.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick held a press conference with local reporters Monday morning, before news of Vereen’s injury came to light. Later in the day, in a call with Jets reporters, Belichick professed ignorance about the status of one of his most versatile offensive players.
“Yeah, I’m not sure where we are on some of the guys after the game,” Belichick said. “We’ll have to wait until the end of the day to get a chance to catch up with the trainers and all that, so I’m not sure.”
Around 4:30 p.m., Vereen sent out a very short tweet, containing only four thumbs-up icons. It was likely his way of telling fans that he will be OK.
Vereen has dealt with early-season injuries during his relatively brief career, missing the first three games of his rookie season and 11 overall in 2011 to injury, and also was on the sideline for the first three games of 2012 with a foot issue.
Just a few days ago, he expressed relief that he’d gotten through the spring and training camp healthy (he didn’t miss a practice during that time), and entered the year in a good place physically.
“It’s a huge relief, just to be able to make it through everything still in one piece is a blessing and I feel lucky to be able to go out there and play,” he had said.
After Ridley, his friend and former neighbor, was benched Sunday, Vereen saw his workload increase and responded with his best all-around performance.
On the Patriots’ final possession, Vereen and Danny Amendola were the only players Tom Brady trusted to help move the ball, and they responded. Vereen had two carries and three catches during the 12-play drive that ended with Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning field goal.
“He’s one of the best players we had,” LeGarrette Blount said of Vereen. “And he’s one of the best players on this team, and he showed it. Losing him is going to hurt a lot. But we’re going to have to have some guys step up and try to fill his role.”
Blount, Ridley, and Brandon Bolden, who did not play against Buffalo because of a knee injury, are among those who could be asked to step up.
“We’re going to have to rally around each other and encourage each other that we’re going to have to pick it up,” Blount said. “We lost Shane, and we’re going to have to take an even bigger piece of what’s going on, in terms of the passing game, in terms of the running game. We’ll have to take a lot more responsibility.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether Ridley will get any of his playing time back.
After the game Sunday, Ridley said he thought he had to win his first-team job back.
On a conference call with reporters Monday, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels shed little light on whether that is the case, but certainly made it clear those kinds of mistakes — Ridley lost the ball without being hit by a defender, and it was returned for Buffalo’s first touchdown of the day — must be eliminated.
Or playing time will be eliminated.
“I think you try to make decisions based on what you feel like is best for the team at each individual time,” said McDaniels. “Yesterday, we made the choice to go with Shane and LeGarrette. Stevan needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball, and he knows that.”
Ridley had 46 yards on nine carries before being benched.
His inability to keep possession of the ball (he also lost the ball in the first quarter but was saved when he was ruled down by contact) has left fans exasperated and coaches pondering what to do.
Is what Ridley can produce (1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns last season) worth the risk if he’s prone to turnovers?
“We will work hard with him on that, and he’ll work hard as well to make sure that we don’t do that anymore,” McDaniels said. “But I think any decision on the future or what is going to happen this week or next week, I don’t think those have been made yet.
“Our job as coaches is to work with our players to improve the things they might not be doing as well as we want them to do, and to try and get better. Ultimately, we will try to play the best guys that give us the best chances to win.”
With Vereen on the shelf for possibly a month or longer, the Patriots may have little choice than to play Ridley and hope a long Sunday on the bench was enough to get through to him.