ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 8: Shane Vereen #34 of the New England Patriots carries the ball during NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 8, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
We wrote on Monday that Patriots running back Steven Ridley would be willing to earn his way back into the starting lineup after losing two fumbles and getting benched in the Week 1 win over the Bills. That opportunity could come as soon as Thursday night because the other running back, Shane Vereen, will be out a few weeks after undergoing to repair a broken bone in his wrist.
So what does this mean for the Pats' backfield beyond Ridley? ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss explains:
Vereen, as we know, is the team's top "passing back," which is the role previously held by Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead. In addition to his work as a rusher (101 yards Sunday) and pass-catcher (7 receptions, 58 yards), the "passing back" is also relied upon heavily in pass protection. That's where the Patriots might miss him most Thursday against a Jets defense that often nicely disguises its intentions pre-snap.
Second-year player Brandon Bolden (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) would be a top candidate to replace Vereen, but he didn't play Sunday because of a knee injury. So that leaves recently re-signed veteran Leon Washington (5-8, 192) as the potential next man up in the "passing back" role. The only other options are Stevan Ridley (5-11, 220) and LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 250) and they aren't as elusive in the passing game.
Ridley will almost certainly see the field in some capacity, but his playing time will be solely a function of his ability to hold onto the football. And while the loss of Vereen hurts (he had 101 yards on 14 carries), the Patriots' offense begins with -- wait for it -- Tom Brady. As long as he's on the field, you have to like New England's chances.