Patriots

Faulk happy to be back

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Faulk happy to be back

PITTSBURGH -- Only one thing matters to the Patriots after a game.

The score.

But Sunday at Heinz Field, after being batted around by a supposed paper tiger Steelers team, there was something else. There was a positive thread weaved through New England's 25-17 loss, Bill Belichick's grumbled murmuring, and a largely quiet locker room.

Kevin Faulk.

The Patriots running back returned to action for the first time since September 2010. A torn ACL sidelined Faulk for 13 months and it wasn't a big roster blow just because he's the Patriots' all-time leader in all-purpose yards (12,247), but because of his range. Faulk was also used for returns on special teams and as a check down receiver on third down. His presence as a locker room leader made him invaluable and never wavered throughout the rehabilitation process. Hell, there's almost a mythological aspect to the man because his 13-season tenure dates P.B: Pre-Belichick.

So Faulk's reemergence Sunday was noted with anticipation. Yet he only gave himself a minute to reflect.

"I tell you, it was only one moment: walking in for warm-ups, being able to go on the field and have a uniform on. That was it," he said. "Other than that, it was time to play the game. The game was the most important thing."

For his teammates, having Faulk back is an important part of the plan. Expectations of easing the 35-year old back into game play were quickly blown up -- not only did he start, but his 11 touches (six rushes, five receptions) led all Patriots.

Finally, Tom Brady was reunited with one of the most reliable pass-catching backs of his career, and the chemistry remained. The quarterback was thrilled.

"He's such a spark plug for our offense," Brady said. "He does so many things well. For a guy who didn't play football in a year, it certainly didn't look like it. He played well, played hard, made some big plays running the ball, catching the ball. I'm sure he's going to be sore tomorrow; he took some big hits. But it's great to have him back."

Were they surprised at how fresh he looked? Were eyebrows raised on the bench after his fantastic blitz pickup on a Brady touchdown pass? Was there any doubt Faulk could keep up? Deion Branch shook off the notion firmly.

"No, no, no," he said. "He's been doing it during the weeks in his rehab, looking real good.

"He's a leader, a great guy to have on the team. He's one of the guys I leaned on when I first came in to the league. It was just good for him to be back on the football field. I went through the same injury that he had, the same bounce back. So I know the determination, the passion that he has for the game, and the will that he has to be back on the field with the guys."

Still, there's a fundamental change. Now that he's back, Faulk's focus is on moving forward instead of playing catch-up. He is bound by a small knee brace but shrugged it off. He took some hard hits and shrugged those off too. He's thankful for every bump and bruise because the pain he deals with now is the same heartbreak as the other 52.

"I'm happy for playing, but at the same time, we lost the game. The happiness is going away," Faulk said.

"When you do what you love to do, you think about it and always be aware of it. But at the same time, when you lose a game you're kind of depressed."

Because, once again, the game is the most important thing.

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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