For a rookie running back looking to establish himself in the NFL, the slight couldn't have been more disconcerting.
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Pinned behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead on the depth chart, Vereen was placed on the inactive list shortly before the 23-20 win over the Ravens. A year later, Vereen is now an integral part of the offense heading into Sunday's rematch.
“Last year, it was kind of devastating and heart breaking to not be out there with the team in a big game,” Vereen said. “This year, I am able to contribute and I hope to help the team in the best way that I can.”
Moments after last Sunday's 41-28 win over the Texans, Brady described Vereen as the biggest factor in why the Patriots were returning to the AFC championship game. Vereen finished with 124 total yards and three touchdowns, including an aesthetically-pleasing 33-yard touchdown catch over Texans LB Barrett Ruud.
“It was a matchup we were hoping to get,” Vereen said. “Evrything lined up right and Tom threw a perfect pass.”
With Rob Gronkowski on IR and Woodhead nursing a thumb injury, Vereen could be split out wide sporadically again. For the Ravens, it will be critical for LB Dannell Ellerbee to contain the Patriots' running backs out of the backfield. Like Vereen, Ellerbee has improved dramatically this season.
“He knows how to match different route patterns and progressions in each coverage,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He's just a really good coverage linebacker.”
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