33 Goes Down; Who Plays on Third Down?

As if losing to the Jets wasn’t bad enough, the insult to injury – or in this case injury to insult – came two days later. Kevin Faulk, the do-it-all swiss army knife of a third-down back has a torn ACL in his right knee.

Faulk was knocked out of Sunday’s game at the New Meadowlands against the Jets in the fourth quarter after an 8-yard run, and members of the team’s training and medical staff were looking at the area around his right knee. Faulk was later seen being helped off the field with his eyes bloodshot from the pain.

The Pats' "swiss army knife" goes down.

“They’re still working on it. I think part of it is how things come around in the next day or so,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, when asked about Faulk’s injury. “We’ll see how things go in the next day or so and based on how that is, then make a decision at that point.”

A 12-year veteran, the 34-year-old Faulk is one of the Pats’ four captains and is the longest-tenured player on the team. He is third in New England history in yards from scrimmage (7,217; 99-10), behind only Sam Cunningham (7,359; 73-82) and Stanley Morgan (10,479; 77-89). Faulk was also the second-leading rusher in SEC history when he was drafted by the Pats.

The Patriots should be used to ACL tears as Tom Brady’s season was ended in the first quarter of the first game of 2008 and Wes Welker needed seven months of rehab to return from his ACL tear, which occurred in last year’s season finale.

The biggest question is not when will Faulk will return, but how do the Patriots replace him. Obviously it will not be one player that will take over the third down role that Faulk has occupied so long and with the departure of Laurence Maroney, it makes the situation that much more convoluted.

Fred Taylor will remain in the feature back role (at least until he gets hurt) and BenJarvis Green-Ellis will presumably see his role in the offense expand. Sammy Morris will also need to contribute from the backfield but neither player can fill the void on their own.

The biggest responsibility may fall on the shoulders of Tom Brady. He loses his safety valve on third downs and passing formations and will now have to form stronger bonds with new, young tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez looked great against the Jets and Gronk is proving to have a nose for the endzone. Another factor may be Julian Edelman. He had just six yards receiving at New York but as he gets healthier he could find his way into more of the offensive scheme and perhaps fill Faulk’s shoes better than anyone else could.

It will be an adjustment period without Faulk, but luckily week one sans Kev, comes against the Bills.

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