FOXBOROUGH — On the first of his two touchdowns, Shane Vereen left no doubt.
The Patriots’ versatile running back emphatically tallied the first TD in Friday night’s 30-7 preseason victory over the Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Vereen hauled in a second-quarter pass from Tom Brady on a wide-open wheel route and cut off the pursuit angle of linebacker A.J. Klein by outsprinting him to the end zone from 40 yards.
“It was the type of coverage where that play was fortunate, good thing we called it,’’ Vereen said. “I ended up being open and was able to finish it off. I definitely didn’t want to get caught or I’d hear it from everybody in this locker room.’’
The second one, though, Vereen wasn’t quite as certain.
Facing a second-and-goal from the Carolina 6 in the third quarter, Vereen hauled in a short pass from Brady and turned upfield. But Vereen’s lateral momentum carried his body toward the sideline where it appeared he stepped out at the 2 as he lunged for the pylon.
“I couldn’t tell if I had stepped out of bounds or not, but I tried like hell to get in there,’’ he said.
Although initially ruled down, Vereen’s efforts were rewarded when Bill Belichick, to the delight of the crowd of 68,756, challenged the play. After review, the ruling was overturned and Vereen was credited with a 6-yard TD catch.
“The touchdown was a good awareness play on the goal line,’’ Belichick said. “Tom got him the ball, he outflanked the coverage, he was able to turn up and make a real good play to get the ball to the pylon.’’
By that point, it was clear Vereen made the most of his extended look in New England’s third preseason game, rushing six times for 18 yards and making five catches for 57 yards. But more than that, it was the snaps Vereen got, as he started the game and played into the third quarter.
“It’s good, it’s something a lot of us felt we needed,’’ Vereen said. “You want to feel like you can get a rhythm going and get a good experience in a game prior to when the live bullets start flying in a couple of weeks, so it’s a good feeling.’’
Last season, the Patriots had eight pass plays of 40 or more yards, one of which was a 50-yard reception Vereen had in a 27-26 victory against the Browns Dec. 8. In that game, Vereen had 12 receptions for 153 yards, setting the single-game franchise record for receptions and receiving yards by a running back.
Vereen’s versatility came shining through on a night when Belichick gave his starters plenty of action. Brady, for one, was pleased to have such a dependable, if not dangerous, performer in his backfield.
“Yeah, he made some great plays tonight,’’ said Brady. “He’s been that way — he’s really had such a dependable role for us the last few years and just done a great job. When the ball is in his hands, good things are happening for our team.
“We’re going to try to keep getting him the ball.’’
But that wasn’t the only ringing endorsement Vereen received. There was none bigger than the one Belichick dished out.
“Shane’s had a good camp,’’ Belichick said. “He’s been out there every day. He’s getting better at all the things that he needs to do at his position; running the ball, pass patterns, catching the ball, blitz pickup, formationing. I think he made a couple of real good plays today . . . I thought that his blitz pickup and his overall running ability throughout the course of camp has shown up repeatedly in a positive way.
“Shane works hard. He’s a very dependable guy and he does a good job for us.’’
Preseason game or not, Vereen left little doubt about that Friday night.
“I’m just glad that the offense was able to string together a couple of drives and string together some plays,’’ Vereen said. “We kind of hurt ourselves a little bit and we still got a lot to work on, but it felt good to get out there and kind of get some rhythm.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.