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Sunday, October 9, 2011
Hernandez makes impact in return

By Chris Forsberg

AP Photo/Elise AmendolaAaron Hernandez loses his helmet on a catch in the first half.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez didn't have to wander far to seek advice on how it would feel playing with a cumbersome knee brace.

"Wes [Welker] told me it was going to feel a little weird, " Hernandez said of the league's top receiver, who played much of the 2010 campaign with a similar brace while working his way back from a torn ACL. "But when you’re in the moment, at a game like this with all these fans out here, on national TV, you kinda forget about the brace."

After sitting out just two games with a sprained left MCL, Hernandez wore the bulky brace Sunday, but it hardly diminished his workload as he was targeted a team-high nine times, catching five passes for 56 yards in a 30-21 triumph over the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium.

Hernandez did smile and admit the brace might have been a detriment in trying to chase down a couple long balls, including one that was just out of his reach in the first half.

"Maybe if I had my knee brace off I might have got up to that ball," Hernandez said with a laugh.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Patriots ran 59 of 79 offensive snaps out of a two tight-end formation and thrived with multiple tight ends. Quarterback Tom Brady completed 16 of 21 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown out of those sets.

"I'm glad [Hernandez is] back," said fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski. "He's a hard worker and there can't be a better teammate. It's great to have a tight end right there beside you. I love having him out there, love working with him. It's great."

It wasn't all great for Hernandez, who watched a touchdown pass clang off his hands on the final play of the first half. The pass was intercepted by the Jets and was Brady's first red zone interception at Gillette Stadium.

"I sat down in between those two defenders, but that’s just me," said Hernandez. "A big-time player, you gotta make big-time plays and I came up short there. But I'll try to make up for it next week."

Hernandez said Brady didn't get down on him because of the play.

"He's always positive -- he said don't worry about it, let it go," said Hernandez. "But, obviously, as a player, if you love the game, it hurts you. It’ll bother me until this night over."

It will surely bother him more than that pesky brace did.