The Patriots likely lost one of their team leaders for the remainder of the season as RB Kevin Faulk reportedly has a torn ACL. The Pats are still waiting for some further information before they place him on IR, though it is likely just a formality at this point. Faulk was injured during the Jets game and was replaced by Sammy Morris, who is one of the leading candidates to take Faulk’s place as the third down back. To say that Faulk was simply a third down back isn’t really giving him his just due, as he played on any down and did a variety of things for the Patriot offense. This is a tremendous blow for the Patriots and dramatically affects what they do on offense. Morris or another back can likely step in but they can’t really replace him.
Kevin Faulk, outside of the leadership he brought to the team as its longest-tenured member, brought a varied skill set to the offense. Faulk was an excellent pass blocker in the backfield, rarely getting beat and providing Tom Brady with some extra time to go through his progressions and make the throw. Faulk was also one of Brady’s primary safety nets after he went through his down-field progressions. Faulk was a reliable option out of the backfield and also lined up as a wide receiver. He was excellent in space, usually getting big gains in screen plays. One under appreciated aspect of his game was his ability to run the ball. Faulk was an effective runner, especially in passing situations and out of the shotgun formation. Quite frankly, he could do it all and do it well.
Where do the Pats go from here? As I mentioned, someone will step in for Faulk but cannot replace him. Sammy Morris is the leading candidate to step in. He is adequate in pass protection and is a hard runner. Newly acquired WR/RB Danny Woodhead is another candidate who could potentially step in for Faulk. Woodhead did many similar things with the Jets when he got playing time as Faulk did. When asked about Woodhead’s potential to serve in the third down back role, Belichick said, “That’s exactly what he did. He actually made [the Jets] as a receiver. He played kind of between receiver and sub [running] back for the Jets.”
I wouldn’t rule the Pats signing a free agent back or maybe trying to trade for one (one of Dallas’s three?), but I think the likely option is sticking with what they have. While losing to the Jets was a blow, losing Faulk for the season was an even bigger one. Faulk signed in the offseason on a one-year deal, and at his age (34) we could have seen the last of the Patriots’ best utility back. I certainly hope not, but if so, he had a tremendous career in New England and will most definitely be a Patriots Hall-of-Famer.