Roger Craig, Ricky Watters and Shane Vereen. What do these three names have in common? Well, after Sunday, they are the only players in NFL history to record two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a single playoff game. Who says third-string running backs don't matter?
Vereen entered Sunday evening behind Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead on the depth chart. This is nothing new for the second-year running back out of California. That situation quickly changed, though, from the get go. Woodhead took the first handoff of the game from Tom Brady, rushed forward finding no room to run and abruptly ended his day with zero yards recorded. He injured his thumb on the play and did not return the rest of the evening.
Enter Shane Vereen. All three running backs were in the mix for the Patriots weekly game plan throughout the regular season, but with Woodhead sidelined, Vereen was thrown into a much larger role. It was time for him to step up. And step up he did.
He first made a splash towards the end of the first quarter with a 1-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead over the Texans. Vereen basically waltzed into the end zone as he bounced outside, and so began his historic night.
Fast forward to the second quarter. The Patriots line up in 12 personnel for first-and-goal from the Texans 8-yard line. Vereen broke out into the flat out of the backfield, standing wide open without a defender in sight. Brady quickly targeted him, and it was clear sailing into the end zone for his second score.
Finally, with the Patriots leading 31-10, Vereen lined up out wide on first-and-10. Linebacker Barrett Ruud was the unfortunate soul matched up with him in coverage. Brady clearly knew where he was going with this ball. Vereen made a move to the outside, beat Ruud upfield and hauled in a beautiful 33-yard touchdown, diving right past the pylon. Perfect placement on the pass, perfect body control on the catch. And there you have it, a hat trick for the Patriots third-string running back. Bill Belichick remained indifferent. What else would you expect?
Vereen finished the night with seven carries and five receptions for a total of 124 yards. Three touchdowns and 124 yards on 12 touches. It's almost like someone was playing with Vereen in Madden to post those gaudy statistics.
The 2012 season wasn't exactly a stellar campaign for the young running back. After missing a few games early in the year due to a foot injury he suffered in the preseason, he struggled to gain ground on Ridley, who was already tearing apart opposing defenses by the time Vereen returned.
He did find his way into several impressive highlights, though. Vereen finished with 62 carries for 251 yards and three rushing touchdowns, also catching eight passes for 149 yards and another score.
Would he have become the No. 1 back on the depth chart if he was healthy to start the year? We'll never know. But that's not slowing him down from making the most of his opportunities in the playoffs.
His three touchdowns in one postseason performance tied a Patriots team record with Curtis Martin and Rob Gronkowski. One running back goes down, another emerges as a star. Expect to hear Vereen's name often as the week progresses. If Woodhead is unable to suit up against the Ravens, Vereen will be presented with another huge stage to blow everyone away. Don't sleep on this second-round draft pick. It's his time to shine.