FOXBOROUGH — Cordarrelle Patterson’s old nickname was “Flash;” it is in his Twitter handle. But that’s Josh Gordon’s nickname, too, so Tom Brady came up with a new one for Patterson: “Slash.”
Fitting, because Patterson is producing for the Patriots as a wide receiver/running back/kick returner. The New England coaching staff is finding ways to get the exceptional athlete the ball in space. He’s responded with his best game of the season at a time when the team was shorthanded on offense, particularly at running back where he was featured in Sunday night’s 31-17 win against the Green Bay Packers.
“If they need me to go in there and take a knee, I can do that, too,” Patterson said.
Patterson led all Patriots ballcarriers with 11 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown to go along with a reception for 7 yards and a pair of kick returns for 64 yards.
The 11 carries were one more than he got last week in Buffalo, though significantly less than the 25 Patterson had lobbied offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for all week.
“I need at least 15, Josh,” Patterson said, shaking his head after the game.
Patterson is playing running back because the Patriots have seen their depth depleted at that position. Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead are on injured reserve and Sony Michel was out for the second-straight week with a knee injury. The Patriots turned to Patterson at running back last week in Buffalo, where he gained 38 yards on 10 carries including a long gain of 22, but that wasn’t as clear an endorsement of his running back skills as was the decision to stick with that plan against a good team like the Packers.
Stick with it they did. On the seven-play, 69-yard drive in the second quarter that ended with his 5-yard touchdown run, Patterson ran for gains of 10, 17 and 8 yards. That was after returning a kick 28 yards to the Patriots 31.
Most of Patterson’s runs were to the perimeter where he could get in space and use his speed to get to the corner and turn upfield. His lack of experience running behind the Patriots’ offensive line wasn’t a liability.
Bill Belichick said after the game that, yes, Patterson did things when he was in Oakland and Minnesota that piqued the Patriots interest in him as a playmaker. They viewed him as someone who was great with the ball in his hands, no matter the position. That’s what made the coaching staff turn to him at running back.
“We thought we had good depth at running back, and we did at one point in the year,” Belichick said. “Depth in August and depth in November are two different things.”
Patterson said he split time in practice and meetings working with the receivers and the running backs throughout the week. His priority was working on ball security, his fumble from two weeks ago in Chicago still gnawing at him.
Patterson has had fun working on it, and has delighted in working with running backs coach Ivan Fears, whom Patterson said often makes him laugh even when Fears is trying to be serious.
The other person Patterson has come to cherish has been fullback James Develin, who helped clear the path for Patterson to score on his 5-yard TD, among other plays.
“I tell James, ‘Every time you’re in the game, I love it,’” Patterson said.
Develin was flattered, and said Patterson has the ability to finds holes quickly and has good timing for someone with his level of inexperience as a running back.
Though Patterson said he’s never had more than a few carries in an NFL game — mostly on sweeps — Develin attributed Patterson’s ability to quickly pick up the nuances of the position to his other duties..
“It’s the experience of returning kicks and catching screen passes and having to decipher where blocks are being set up,” Devlin said. “The guy is just a natural ball carrier and it’s really cool to see him have success.”
Patterson is not the Patriots long-term solution at running back. Michel should be back soon, which means Patterson isn’t even a short-term solution. But his production and willingness to embrace a new role has impressed teammates and coaches, which will matter long after other players are back and healthy.