Pats’ run game back in spotlight entering Buffalo matchup
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Running the football has been an adventure for the New England Patriots this season.
Injuries and inconsistency were issues early on as the Patriots struggled in short yardage and failed to produce a touchdown in the first three games.
Jeremy Hill was lost for the year after he suffered a knee injury in the New England’s season opener. Two games later, starter Rex Burkhead hurt his neck in the Patriots’ loss to Detroit and was also placed on injured reserve.
Buoyed by the production of rookie Sony Michel, who had missed the preseason with his own knee issue, New England scored seven touchdowns on the ground over the next three games. Michel had four of them, to go along with two 100-yard games.
But the Patriots’ running backs were again held out of the end zone in last week’s 38-31 win at Chicago.
Production slowed considerably when Michel had to be helped off the field in the second quarter after having his left knee bent back awkwardly while he was being tackled.
“What happened to Sony ... could happen to anybody at any time, unfortunately. So, we have to be prepared for those things,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “At whatever point the die is cast and we know what it is, we go in that direction.”
Where that is exactly is to be determined as New England returns to AFC East play Monday night at Buffalo. Following Michel’s injury, James White and Kenjon Barner began the week as the only healthy running backs on the roster.
White leads the team with 45 receptions and six receiving touchdowns and is the second-leading rusher (40 carries, 189 yards, TD) behind Michel. Barner has 16 carries for 63 yards, but his comfort level in the offense is unclear.
This is his third stint with the Patriots this season after being twice released and spending time on the practice squad.
White said Barner and current practice squad running back Kenneth Farrow are prepared to contribute as needed.
“They’re good guys,” White said. “They’re working hard, trying to learn as much as possible. It can be a lot thrown at you pretty fast, but they’re willing to work, ask the questions and they try to go out there and perform on the practice field. You can tell it’s showing up for Kenjon in the game. He’s running hard, doing everything he needs to do.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he’s comfortable having White handle more of the load.
“I think that comes down to individual execution and that credit goes to James White,” McDaniels said. “He’s the one that runs the routes, he’s the one that makes decisions and cuts in the backfield if you’re handing it to him, and he’s the one that catches the ball wherever you put him on the field.”
While White has a subdued demeanor off the field, center David Andrews said he has the confidence of the entire offense when his number is called.
“Every time he gets the football, I like it a lot,” Andrews said.
White says he’s ready to do whatever is asked of him.
“It’s just taking care of your body and going out there and executing, getting the job done whether it’s more touches or not,” he said. “I just want to make the most of the opportunities that I get and just have fun out there and play to the best of my abilities.
“That’s all it is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 10 touches, one touch, 20 touches. It doesn’t really matter. Just go out there and play hard and do whatever I can to help this team.”
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower