FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — To be a productive member of the New England Patriots, it’s usually best to approach the game plan each week with adaptive eyes.
No one has learned that lesson more this season than receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
When he was traded by Oakland to the Patriots in March, Patterson arrived in New England hoping to land a place on Tom Brady’s receiving corps following an offseason shake-up that saw the departures of both Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola.
But after a Week 3 neck injury sent veteran running back Rex Burkhead to injured reserve and rookie Sony Michel’s knee injury in Week 7 stunted his strong start, it created a void at another position that itself was recovering from the free agency loss of Dion Lewis.
The natural solution seemed to be an increased role for veteran James White. Instead the coaching staff chose creativity over predictability.
Two productive games at running back later, Patterson has become the latest Patriots player to excel in an unconventional role in New England.
Patterson led the Patriots with 61 rushing yards, including a 5-yard touchdown in their 31-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers Sunday night . It was the second straight week he led the team in rushing and came two weeks after he had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Bears.
That’s just about right for a player called “Flash” early in his career.
“I said I wanted 25 carries this week,” Patterson said. “Whenever my number’s called I’m being ready for whatever I need to do on the football field.”
Using Patterson out of the backfield isn’t as much of a stretch as it might seem.
Coach Bill Belichick said he noted the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder’s ability to make plays from there when studying his 2017 film with the Raiders. He rushed 13 times for 121 yards and two scores with Oakland last season, an average of 9.3 yards per carry.
Patterson was used by the Patriots on some reverses early in the season, again impressing his new coaches with his speed and power attacking holes.
“He’s worked really hard with the ball handling, the reads, but boy, he runs hard. He runs fast and he’s a hard guy to tackle,” Belichick said. “Like a lot of our guys have, they just step in, fill the role that we need for them and help the team win, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
That’s become the theme for role players under Belichick.
Fullback James Develin was an undrafted defensive end out of Brown before finding a home as the Patriots’ fullback. Matt Slater arrived in New England as a receiver but became its special teams captain and a seven-time Pro Bowler.
White said Patterson’s natural skillset and willingness to accept coaching have been his biggest attributes in acclimating to the Patriots’ culture.
“He’s a strong, fast, explosive guy,” White said. “He can score any time he touches the football and he’s been trying to get better and better at it each week. The more he does it, the better he gets.”
Michel was questionable heading into Sunday’s game with Green Bay and could return to action when the Patriots travel to Tennessee this week.
For now, Patterson said he’s trying to stay humble and hungry in the role he’s been given — however long it lasts.
“I mean it’s the next man up. It’s the NFL. If you can play, you can play,” He said. “We didn’t like that the guys weren’t ready, but every guy is going to step up because this is our job. This is our life.”