Hernandez Stepped Up During the Patriots Playoff Win Over Denver

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January 15, 2012 at 02:36am ET

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Rob Gronkowski obviously has his own set of skills, but Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has shown a lot of versatility in this offense this season.

Tight End Aaron Hernandez came up big during their playoff win over Denver Saturday night. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

They've split him out wide, lined him up in the backfield, and have come up with some unique ways to create match-up problems for opposing defenses.

Saturday night Hernandez found himself called upon quite a bit in New England's ground game, carrying five times for 61 yards and finished as the Patriots leading rusher during their 45-10 win over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

The five carries he had matched the total number of rushes he had all season, and Bill Belichick told the media after the game that they felt like using him in the backfield would be something that Denver's defense likely wouldn't have been expecting.

“Well, we didn’t have any backs in the game in that personnel grouping, we just had the three receivers and the two tight ends, so I don’t think that…you know that isn’t something we’ve done a lot of," explained Belichick after the game.  "You see all those receivers on the field and you’re not really thinking too much about the running game defensively so we tried to pop a couple of runs in there just to keep them honest.

"We thought they might be thinking…I mean obviously they are thinking pass – we threw the ball almost every time – but we tried to get a couple of runs going there.  And Aaron [Hernandez] made a good run, it looked like he broke a tackle and he did a nice job handling the ball there.”

It was a 43-yard rush by Aaron Hernandez on their opening possession that helped set up their first touchdown after the 2nd year tight end got them down to the Broncos' 7 yard line.  One play later Brady hit Wes Welker for their first touchdown, and New England was off and running.

Hernandez, who finished with 4 catches for 55 yards also later caught a 17-yard touchdown in the third quarter that would be Brady's sixth touchdown pass of the game, tying an NFL record.

After the game Brady credited his tight end with helping get the team off to a good start.

“Yeah, that run to Aaron [Hernandez] really got us off to a great start," said Brady.  "He’s great with the ball in his hands.   All those guys played well, all the skilled guys, The offensive line played awesome.  They threw a lot of stuff at us, and I thought we really responded well.  Certainly the turnovers, I wish we wouldn’t have those, but we can learn from those and hopefully go out and play better next week.”