New England Patriots: Brandon Bolden

Patriots positional review: RB

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots running backs:

Stevan Ridley
Age: 24
2013 status: Led backs in snaps (28 percent), started 6 games.
2013 highlights: Ran for 773 yards and scored seven touchdowns, though his season will be in many ways remembered for a string of three straight games with a fumble that led to being inactive for a game. Ridley has the most pure running talent on the team, but he must overcome ball-security issues.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Shane Vereen
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among backs in snaps (24.3 percent), started 1 of 8 games active
2013 highlights: Missed 8 games because of a Week 1 wrist injury, but became a pass-catching force in his return. Had 47 catches during the regular season, establishing himself as a top pass-catching back in the role previously held by Danny Woodhead. Had some critical drops, but realized potential in third pro season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

LeGarrette Blount
Age: 27
2013 status: Third among backs in snaps (23.3 percent), started 7 games
2013 highlights: Came on like a freight train late in the season, surpassing 300 total yards during the regular-season finale. A bruiser who bounced back after a disappointing 2012 season in Tampa Bay. Not always electric, but flashed big play explosiveness down the stretch. Had 8 rushing scores in last four games (playoffs included).
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Brandon Bolden
Age: 23
2013 status: Fourth among backs in snaps (23.2 percent), started 2 of 12 games played
2013 highlights: Was a part of the running back rotation during the middle of the season, playing a critical role in the Week 12 win against Denver. Made more pronounced impact on special teams as a core coverage player.
Current contract runs through: 2014

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions primarily as a lead blocker in two-back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

Others on the roster: Jonas Gray, Sam McGuffie (RB/WR)

Positional need: New England’s approach at running back has often been by committee, and 2013 was no different. Vereen cemented himself as the go-to option when the team pressed the up-tempo button, while Ridley and Blount were more of the bellcow types. While Blount’s performance late in the season makes him a player of interest to bring back, NFL teams are becoming judicious in paying big bucks to backs because of their "replace-ability." That being said, bringing Blount back would solidify the depth at the position, with three quality starter types and Bolden as insurance.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Sharing some halftime thoughts of the New England Patriots' game against the Ravens (New England leads 17-0):

One of Patriots' best halves of the season: This has been, across the board, some of the best football the Patriots have played this season. All three phases are getting it done. On offense, a commitment to the ground game has stood out. On defense, the turnovers are back. And the special teams coverage has been outstanding, sparked by captain Matthew Slater. For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't look completely comfortable.

Replay review critical for Patriots: Danny Amendola's late second-quarter fumble was overturned on replay, which was crucial for the Patriots because it could have been a momentum-swinging turn of events -- the Ravens getting the ball on a short field and then at the start of the third quarter. Turnovers are such a big part of the action, as we saw in the first quarter for the Patriots (Logan Ryan interception sets up the second touchdown).

Red-zone struggles corrected: One of the big storylines entering the game was the Patriots' red-zone performance (1 of 4 vs. Miami). They are 2 of 2 today, with a power running game (LeGarrette Blount) and then a well-designed pass play (Shane Vereen) the successful formula.

A lot of penalties: Ron Winter's crew has been busy tonight. It's always difficult to tell while watching live if all the calls are warranted, but our general preference are games with fewer flags. It seemed like a long half because of it, with little flow. This reminds us of the 2009 Patriots-Ravens regular-season game, in Foxborough, in which Winter was also the referee.

Injuries to monitor: Vereen left in the second quarter with a groin injury and has not returned. Brandon Bolden has assumed his role as the top "passing back." ... Safety Steve Gregory left in the second quarter with what looked like a right knee/leg injury. It looked signficant, and rookie Duron Harmon took his place. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower left the game briefly in the second quarter, but returned.

Ravens get the ball: The Patriots had called heads at the opening toss and it came up tails, with the Ravens deferring the choice to the second half. So the Ravens get the ball to open the second half.

Stevan Ridley, Alfonzo Dennard active

December, 8, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As expected, running back Stevan Ridley is active for the Patriots and will dress for today's game against the Cleveland Browns. What remains to be seen is just how much he will play after being deactivated last week following three straight games with a fumble.

The team announced its final five inactives -- wide receiver Aaron Dobson and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon had previously been ruled out -- which includes running back Brandon Bolden, who was listed with a non-injury issue but probable to play, and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), who was limited this week in practice.

Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed two of three games with a knee injury and was listed as questionable, will play. Veteran wide receiver Austin Collie, re-signed this week, is active and will play. With Dobson and Thompkins sitting, Collie could be in line for reps as the team's third or fourth receiver.

Below is a full list of Patriots inactives:

LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
RB Brandon Bolden
OT Marcus Cannon
WR Aaron Dobson
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
WR Kenbrell Thompkins

Below is a list of Browns inactives:

WR Josh Cooper
OL Reid Fragel
OL Garrett Gilkey
TE Keavon Milton
QB Alex Tanney
OL Martin Wallace
QB Brandon Weeden

Will Bolden's absence open door for Ridley?

December, 6, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Brandon Bolden was not spotted at the start of Friday morning's rainy New England Patriots practice, which sparked the following question: Could this open the door for Stevan Ridley to return to the 46-man game-day roster?

Bolden hasn't been listed on the team's injury report this week and the absence could be non-injury related. More details regarding Bolden's absence should be learned around 4 p.m. ET when the official participation report is released.

The Patriots dressed three running backs for last Sunday's win against the Texans -- Shane Vereen (41 of 70 snaps), LeGarrette Blount (20 snaps) and Bolden (9) -- which left Ridley on the sidelines. Since that decision, one of the top storylines surrounding the team is if Ridley will continue to be a healthy scratch, or if he might re-emerge in some form. Bolden's status could have a direct impact on the answer.

The other area of note that caught the eye at practice was seeing fill-in starting right tackle Will Svitek's right ankle heavily taped. Svitek landed on the injury report Wednesday, leaving the Patriots vulnerable at tackle because starter Sebastian Vollmer (leg) is on season-ending injured reserve and top backup Marcus Cannon (ankle) remains out of practice.

Also with receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) not practicing, it essentially rules him out Sunday for the second straight game.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard wasn't present for the second day in a row as he is due in court for a second day in Nebraska.

Patriots use many hands to replace Ridley

December, 1, 2013
After fumbling in three straight games, New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch for his team's Week 13 matchup with the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.

Following the 34-31 win, during which New England accumulated 87 rushing yards on 27 carries, Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered a simple reason why Ridley was declared inactive for the first time since his rookie season in 2011.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsLeGarrette Blount led the Patriots with 12 carries and 44 rushing yards.
"Because there were 46 other players active ahead of him," he said.

The Patriots turned to a four-back attack in Ridley's absence, as LeGarrette Blount led the way with 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown, and Shane Vereen added 75 total yards and a receiving touchdown. Brandon Bolden had four total touches, and fullback James Develin scored the first touchdown of his career.

The group drew praise from quarterback Tom Brady after the game.

"LeGarrette ran really hard. Shane's doing a great job for us coming back off being out for a while, and Brandon got a lot of touches, too," he said. "So all those guys contributed. We're going to need them all, that's one of the strengths of our team."

What remains to be seen is how long it will take for Ridley to work his way back into the lineup, as he was benched following his fumble in the first quarter last week.

He's proven to be one of the better between-the-tackles rushers in the NFL when on the field, but ball security has been a problem. He has nine fumbles in 42 career regular-season games, six of which have been lost.

The Patriots next take on the Cleveland Browns, one of seven teams to enter Sunday allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing per game.

That matchup might lead the team to work Ridley back into the mix as they aim to further hit their stride down the stretch.

Bolden, Blount in line for more carries

December, 1, 2013
New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was announced as inactive for Sunday's game, coming on the heels of three games in which he has fumbled. Earlier Sunday morning, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots likely would have used Ridley in a reduced role if he were active, though roster considerations made it necessary to keep Ridley off the field altogether.

In addition to Ridley, the Patriots announced that defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Steve Beauharnais will not play Sunday. The team had previously ruled out wide receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and starting right tackle Marcus Cannon.

The full list of the Patriots' and Texans' inactives is below:

LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
OT Marcus Cannon
CB Alfonzo Dennard
WR Aaron Dobson
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
RB Stevan Ridley

OT Andrew Gardner
DE Tim Jamison
OG Alex Kupper
DE Ricky Sapp
DB Jawanza Starling
OG Cody White
QB T.J. Yates

Analysis: The big news here is the decision to sit Ridley, the team's best between-the-tackles runner who leads the Patriots in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns. Ultimately, the string of fumbles apparently was too disconcerting for the Patriots' coaching staff, who may hope that a week away can help Ridley recalibrate as the season's home stretch approaches. There are some who believe fumbling is just as much a mental issue as a physical one, and perhaps time off will be what Ridley needs. With Ridley out, the Patriots look likely to lean on Shane Vereen as their up-tempo back, but then it becomes less clear between Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. Blount has been further up the depth chart for much of the season, but he too fumbled last week, leading to Bolden serving as a primary ball carrier. Given that each is active, it would come as no surprise to see both earn touches as the between-the-tackles runner when the Patriots turn to more of their two-back or two-tight-end sets. A final note is that safety Steve Gregory, who missed a pair of games due to a broken thumb, returns to the lineup.

Progress report: Pats' second-year players

November, 7, 2013
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has talked at length in the past about the critical importance of the offseason for players entering their second NFL season. It often turns out that players experience their biggest jump from one year to the next from their rookie to sophomore seasons.

We saw it with Stevan Ridley in 2012, as he became the Patriots' workhorse back and one of the NFL's top rushers.

With the regular season more than halfway over and the bye week upon us, below is a look at how the Patriots' second-year players have performed.

Defensive end Chandler Jones: When Belichick talked about the development of second-year players, it was likely exactly with what we've seen from Jones in mind. The team's top pick in 2012 has built off his six-sack rookie season to become one of the best pass-rushers in the AFC, totaling 8.5 already. He's firmly entrenched himself as a cornerstone of the defense.

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower: Another first-round pick in 2012, Hightower is also a key defender for the Patriots. He's taken on a bigger leadership role this season from an on-field communication standpoint, particularly with Jerod Mayo out for the season. Hightower is an able run defender, though his speed limitation has shown up in pass coverage.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: Dennard made the leap into the starting lineup toward the end of his rookie season and has not looked back since. He's developed into a dependable perimeter corner that has shined through the season's first half. He projects as a long-term starter if he stays on his current arc of progression.

Running back Brandon Bolden: Bolden has figured significantly into the Patriots' running back rotation, often serving as the back within the up-tempo offense. He's played a less prominent role on special teams this season than he did last year, and it will be interesting to see how his offensive role changes when Shane Vereen returns.

Safety Tavon Wilson: The second-round pick out of Illinois in 2012 started off his NFL career as a regular part of the Patriots' defense. He has since become largely a special-teams player. He missed time earlier this season due to a hamstring issue, but he's become among the team's top core special teamers.

Safety Nate Ebner: Ebner was drafted with the idea in mind of him becoming an impactful special teams player, and he's steadily contributed on coverage units. He has not had a defensive role this season.

Defensive tackle Marcus Forston: After starting the year on the practice squad, Forston was promoted to the active roster amidst injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. He's yet to play much, however, as the team has leaned more on rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones.

Defensive end Jake Bequette: There was hope that a full offseason would propel Bequette onto the radar this season, but that has not yet been the case. The Patriots turned to rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan as their third rusher earlier in the year before more recently signing veteran Andre Carter. Bequette is effectively the fifth defensive end on the roster.

Gregory, Collie, Bolden not at practice

November, 5, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting safety Steve Gregory, who broke his thumb against the Steelers in Week 9, according to ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter, was one of three players not spotted at the start of practice on Tuesday, conducted in full pads on the practice fields outside Gillette Stadium.

Running back Brandon Bolden, who has dealt with a knee issue this season, was not spotted, nor was wide receiver Austin Collie, who left Sunday's game with a knee injury and did not return.

On the other end of the spectrum, defensive end Rob Ninkovich was on the practice field after leaving Sunday's game due to a foot injury.

Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) and running back Shane Vereen (wrist) were once again on the practice field as well.

Two players, a wide receiver wearing number 16 and a running back wearing number 35, were also spotted on the practice field. The team had just one open roster spot -- a practice-squad opening -- as of Tuesday morning, meaning a spot would need to be created for one of those two players. More information to come as it is received.

Before practice began, the Patriots announced that wide receiver Josh Boyce, fullback James Develin, cornerback Logan Ryan and Gregory had been named last week's practice players of the week.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

October, 27, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing a few thoughts at halftime, as the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 17-3:

Ugly half of football. This has been one of the Patriots' worst halves of the season. The tone was set by Tom Brady's interception on the team's second offensive play -- an inaccurate delivery to tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a bad throw by Brady, who might be dealing with discomfort with the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand.

Where's Ridley? Running back Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher in 2012, was limited to six snaps in the first half (not including final kneel-down) as the Patriots went mostly with Brandon Bolden (15 snaps), while mixing in LeGarrette Blount (starter who totaled 5 snaps). A bit of a head-scratcher there.

Cole over Ryan at cornerback. Without top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots started Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the position, with Marquice Cole playing the nickelback role. It was Cole who overran receiver Brandon Gibson on the Dolphins' first touchdown. The Patriots used rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in that role last week, but he hasn't played a defensive snap today, with Cole getting the nod over him.

Dolphins sparked by run. Miami ran the ball 21 times in the first half, and you wonder if the same approach would be taken if the Patriots had Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at defensive tackle, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker. The Patriots just aren't as sturdy in the front seven and the Dolphins are taking it to them. Credit goes to the Dolphins for executing and winning the critical situations.

Injury report. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a right leg injury and has already been ruled out. Looked like the season-ending type, but that hasn't been confirmed. That thrusts third-year player Marcus Cannon into the statring mix at right tackle, with veteran Will Svitek now the top backup.

Patriots get the ball. The Patriots had won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will receive the opening kickoff of the second half. The home crowd booed the Patriots as they kneeled on the ball at the end of the second quarter.

X's & O's: Involve RBs in passing game?

October, 26, 2013
Entering Week 7, there was ample talk about how the Patriots had used their tight ends far less frequently this season than they had last season.

That all changed with the return of Rob Gronkowski, who was targeted 17 times and hauled in eight catches for 114 yards, more yards than all other Patriots tight ends had combined for in the first six games.

The Patriots will again be without their best pass-catching running back this Sunday, as Shane Vereen isn't eligible to return to game action until Week 11. But, like the tight end position, the Patriots have been less reliant on their backs to catch the football in 2013 than they were in previous seasons.

Nonetheless, they have capable pass-catchers -- Brandon Bolden is probably the best of the healthy bunch -- and Sunday could present a window to take advantage of an aggressive, fast-read Dolphins defense.

The Bills, Miami's Week 7 opponent, converted a critical third-and-15 on a screen pass to tailback Fred Jackson, catching a blitzing Dolphins D off guard. The play involved a confluence of factors -- a well-time played call, an unfortunate defensive play call and good running after the catch from Jackson -- but it served as a reminder that the Patriots have long been one of the best screen-game passing offenses in football.

This season, there has been much less of that, due in part to the injury to Vereen. But Sunday, with Tom Brady in the midst of a mini-funk and going against the type of defense that could be vulnerable on such plays, perhaps the Patriots will turn back to what was once a staple and try to more readily involve their backs as pass-catchers via the screen.

Though Stevan Ridley hasn't handled a huge load as a receiver during his career, he's capable of turning a screen pass into big yardage, and we know the Patriots offensive line plays with the athleticism and tempo to get into the open field and execute blocks on second- and third-level defenders.

Quick-hit thoughts after first quarter

October, 20, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the New York Jets 14-7. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Gronk watch. The Patriots didn't wait long to utilize tight end Rob Gronkowski, as he was on the field for the first offensive series, catching his first pass on a second and 10 play and extending for the first down. He would later catch a 29-yard seam route that came up about a yard short of a touchdown, though his impact was felt immediately. He also had an edge-setting block on the team's first touchdown of the game, a run by Brandon Bolden. Safe to say Gronkowski came ready to play. He played 9 of the team's 12 offensive snaps.

2. Jets score easily on first drive. The Jets started the game with a 25-yard gain on a pass from quarterback Geno Smith to tight end Jeff Cumberland and didn't stop after that. They easily cruised down the field, converting three third downs, capped off with a touchdown throw to slot man Jeremy Kerley. All too easy for New York on their first drive. But...

3. Ryan makes first career pick. Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan made his first career interception, picking off Geno Smith and returning it 79 yards for a score on the Jets' next drive. It was a particularly sweet moment for Ryan because it came in his home state, as the Berlin, N.J., native also attended Rutgers. The Patriots have forced a turnover in 34 straight regular-season games, best in the NFL.

4. Defense turns to Collins. The Patriots have turned to linebacker Jamie Collins to replace Jerod Mayo in the starting lineup, as he's been the third linebacker alongside Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. The team has also opted for a heavier front, using three defensive tackles and Chandler Jones along the defensive line, with Rob Ninkovich used in stand-up alignments.

5. Penalty box. No Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 5

October, 7, 2013
CINCINNATI -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanPatriots QB Tom Brady finished Sunday's Week 5 game in Cincinnati with 197 yards, no TDs and one interception.
Offensive struggles: In a script that has been flipped from recent years, it's the defense carrying the offense at this point. Quarterback Tom Brady was held to fewer than 200 yards passing for the second time this season, as the Bengals defense controlled the game at the line of scrimmage. "We scored six points; I don't even remember the last time we've done that," Brady said Monday morning on sports radio WEEI. The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was a 21-0 shutout loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006. Looking for a place to start when it comes to turning around the fortunes of the offense? Start up front with the offensive line, where all five starters return and a better performance than what was put forth Sunday in Cincinnati is expected.

Rob Gronkowski's potential return: The tight end has missed the first five games of the regular season, but he could return Sunday against the Saints. The Patriots couldn't convert in their one trip inside the red zone Sunday, and Brady threw incomplete to left tackle-turned-eligible tight end Nate Solder in the end zone. Gronkowski, who figures to be managed upon his return to the field, could at least help in the red zone.

Tommy Kelly and defensive tackle depth: The veteran defensive tackle left Sunday's game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Kelly said after the game that "everything was good" with the knee, and he wasn't walking with a limp or with the aid of crutches, although it's still a bit unclear what that means. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle after losing Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, and if Kelly is sidelined for any period of time, it would further deplete the ranks. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are the only other defensive tackles on the roster, while Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis are on the practice squad.

Banged-up running back group: With veteran Leon Washington leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury and not returning, Shane Vereen on short-term injured reserve, and Stevan Ridley sidelined Sunday with a knee injury, the Patriots were down to just two running backs -- LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both had miscues that hurt the team -- Blount a second-quarter fumble and Bolden two drops. As the passing game struggles to produce consistent results, it would help to be able to turn to the running game. But it's a depleted group and we'll be interested to see if Washington's injury leads the team to consider injured reserve as an option.

Offensive snaps: Bolden leads RBs

October, 7, 2013
CINCINNATI -- A look at the snaps played by New England Patriots offensive skill position players in Sunday's 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

QB Tom Brady -- 63 of 63
WR Kenbrell Thompkins -- 61 of 63
WR Julian Edelman -- 60 of 63
RB Brandon Bolden -- 40 of 63
WR Aaron Dobson -- 39 of 63
WR Danny Amendola -- 38 of 63
TE Michael Hoomanawanui -- 38 of 63
RB LeGarrette Blount -- 22 of 63
FB James Develin -- 7 of 63
TE Matthew Mulligan -- 7 of 63
TE Marcus Cannon -- 2 of 63*
WR Josh Boyce -- 1 of 63

(Includes penalties.)

* Cannon gets credit for the snaps as he was the extra player to come on, even though left tackle Nate Solder was utilized as an eligible receiver on those plays.

ANALYSIS: At halftime, the Patriots had a more even split among running backs Brandon Bolden (18) and LeGarrette Blount (15) but the final numbers heavily favored Bolden as the team leaned toward more passing situations in the second half. Blount played eight snaps after his second-quarter fumble. ... At receiver, Danny Amendola was managed as he played all but one of his snaps in either the three-receiver or four-receiver packages. ... Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman remained the top two receivers on the depth chart, with Aaron Dobson the No. 3. Looking back, one wonders if the Patriots coaching staff might regret not having Dobson on the field for a third-and-goal play from the 1. At 6-foot-3, he might have been the best choice to throw a fade to when compared with the three receivers the Patriots had on the field -- Thompkins (6-1), Edelman (5-10) and Amendola (5-11).

Quick-hit thoughts after third quarter

September, 29, 2013
ATLANTA -- Entering the final quarter of play, the New England Patriots lead the Atlanta Falcons 13-10. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the third quarter:

1. Bolden returns. After leaving the game in the first half with a knee injury, running back Brandon Bolden returned to open the second half. Bolden was unable to play in each of the team's first two games due to a right knee issue. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, meanwhile, was ruled out of the rest of the game due to a right ankle issue.

2. Edelman triggers incentive clause. In catching his third pass of the night, wide receiver Julian Edelman made himself a nice chunk of change, as he triggered an incentive clause in his contract that entitles him to $30,000 for 30 catches during the season. The next benchmark: 40 catches and an escalation of that bonus to $70,000.

3. Dobson banged up. At the conclusion of an extended drive that resulted in a chip shot field goal, Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson went down to the ground and clutched his right shoulder area after taking a crunching hit in the end zone. Dobson, who was the intended target of the throw on the play, was taken off the field with help from the medical staff. He later left the sideline and headed back to the locker room.

4. Vellano registers first sack. Getting extended playtime in Wilfork's absence, undrafted rookie Joe Vellano came through with his first career sack and the first sack for the Patriots defense on the evening. The sack pushed Atlanta into a 2nd-and-23 situation, putting the initial halt on what had been a productive drive.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the third quarter: guard Logan Mankins (holding), team offense (illegal shift; declined) and quarterback Tom Brady (delay of game).

How Patriots filled Matthew Slater void

September, 23, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots were without special-teams captain Matthew Slater in Sunday's 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers. A big part of Slater's value is that he plays on each of the "Big 4" units -- kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return, punt coverage -- so when a player like that is injured it often means multiple players are tapped to fill the void.

Here is a look at how the Patriots compensated:

Duron Harmon on punt coverage. The third-round pick from Rutgers was the choice to serve as one of the team's gunners opposite Marquice Cole. Slater's work as a gunner, where he often faces double teams, is considered exemplary.

Brandon Bolden on kickoff return. Slater is usually back deep on the kickoff return, mostly as the fullback on the unit. Second-year running back Bolden, who played for the first time this season after missing the first two games while recovering from a knee injury, took over that role.

Michael Buchanan on kickoff coverage. In an unusual switch, defensive end Buchanan was the new player on the kickoff coverage unit in place of Slater. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Buchanan has a different body type than the 6-foot, 210-pound Slater and fills a different role. Buchanan had played on the kickoff coverage unit in the season opener along with Slater, but was bumped off in Week 2 when Harmon dressed for the first time this season.

Jake Bequette on punt return. While not a 1-for-1 switch, and while acknowledging that the Patriots can have different units based on whether they are setting up a return or electing to rush more players, second-year player Bequette was a notable addition to the punt return team. Similar to Buchanan, he has a different body type than Slater and fills a different role. This was the first we've seen of Bequette in this role in 2013.

ANALYSIS: This is a good example of how Slater's absence led to four-pronged juggling by the coaching staff. Bill Belichick has spoken in the past about how his experience as a special-teams coach prepared him well for his role as a head coach in terms of managing the overall 53-man roster, and this is a perfect example to illustrate that point. It also highlights how Slater's skills are unique and no one player can fill the void. ... Players who were on all four units Sunday were LB Jamie Collins, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Chris White and S Tavon Wilson, which reflects their special-teams value and why, among other reasons, they are locks for the 46-man game-day roster on a weekly basis. ... Players on three units were CB Marquice Cole, S Nate Ebner and S Duron Harmon. ... The wedge players on the kickoff return were FB James Develin, TE Michael Hoomanawanui and TE Matthew Mulligan.