FOXBOROUGH — Cordarrelle Patterson was fresh off his first game as a starting running back in the NFL, and hungry for more. A career-high 10 carries for 38 yards in the Patriots’ 25-6 victory over the Bills on Monday night wasn’t enough to satiate Patterson’s thirst.
“He was on our case after the Buffalo game,” said Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears. “ ‘How many more can I get?’ Love it. Got to love it.”
Yes, Patterson had been used this season to run reverses and jet sweeps. The 27-year-old joined the Patriots this season as one of the NFL’s top kick returners, averaging 30.3 yards per return in his career. Fears said that players with Patterson’s skill set usually have some experience lining up in the backfield from their school days.
But this was unfamiliar territory.
On the first snap in Buffalo, Patterson lined up behind fullback James Develin, took a handoff from Tom Brady and ran right for a 6-yard gain. Seeing a player wearing No. 84 and lining up in the I-formation as a halfback was unusual, but the Patriots simply didn’t have many options.
Patterson’s move to the backfield was borne out of necessity as James White and Kenjon Barner were the only two active backs on New England’s sideline Monday. The Patriots were left thin when rookie Sony Michel was knocked out of the Bears game on Oct. 21 with a knee injury. Michel underwent an MRI the next day and did return to practice but was held out of the game for precautionary reasons.
White had eight carries for 15 yards against the Bills but was Brady’s main target out of the backfield, making 10 receptions for 79 yards. Barner gained just 4 yards on two carries.
With a depleted backfield corps, coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels turned to Fears to help mold the 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound Patterson into a capable halfback, able to shoulder the brunt of the load against Buffalo.
Fears was pleased with what he had to work with.
“You try to give him as many reps as you can,” Fears said. “You try to get him to the point where it’s second nature for him. As many looks as you can give him. He’s probably done it before, other places. He’s very comfortable. He’s excited about doing it. He’s got to have some kind of previous history of doing it.”
Patterson was dropped for a 4-yard loss on his second carry, but he came out of the experience wanting more
“When my number’s called, I’ll be ready, and Josh did a hell of a job putting me back there and showing trust in me,” said Patterson after the game. “Next time I hope I’ll get like 25 carries.”
The highlight came in the fourth quarter when Patterson helped set up the first touchdown of the sloppily-played contest. With less than 12 minutes to play and the Patriots leading, 12-6, Patterson took a first-down handoff at the Buffalo 44. He started right, cut sharply between a hole created by Develin and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and took off down the sideline for a 22-yard gain before being pushed out at the Bills’ 22.
Three plays later, White scored on a 1-yard dive into the end zone to all but seal the victory.
Phillip Dorsett, who spends plenty of time with Patterson in the wide receivers’ room, wasn’t surprised to see the former first-round draft pick excitedly approaching a new challenge. It speaks to the selfless nature of Patterson, much like many players on the Patriots’ roster, not only accepting a new role but also relishing it.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Dorsett said. “I saw it coming because I knew he could do it and he knew he could do it. You saw the kick return the week before. He’s just a great player.
“He’s an athlete, great player, great asset to the team. He can play all the positions.”
Fears also liked what he saw from his new recruit.
“No doubt about it, [he’ll] put the extra work in,” Fears said. “We’ll say, ‘Hey, won’t you stay after practice for a few more reps?’ No problem. You know what I mean? No problem. It’s a lot easier [coaching someone like that], a lot more fun, too.”
Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.