Hernandez comes up big after fumble

Hernandez comes up big after fumble
October 17, 2011, 2:16 am
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FOXBORO -- If the failure of Chad Ochocinco to become an important cog in New England's offense isn't as big a deal as you may have expected, it's because there's no lack of offensive weapons on the field when the Patriots have the ball.

One of those weapons is Aaron Hernandez.

The second-year tight end is coming into his own this season, even after suffering an MCL injury which put him out of action for two weeks.

To those paying attention in training camp, Hernandez' production should be no surprise. He was Brady's go-to guy, it seemed.

Through six weeks of the regular season, Brady doesn't have just one "go-to guy." He has multiple. But through six weeks, Hernandez has certainly been near the top of his list.

"Hes done a lot of good things," said Brady after Sunday's 20-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stdaium. "Hes really become a dependable player. He runs very good routes. Coach Bill Belichick always says, A receiver should get open, catch the ball and then do something with it after they catch it. And Aaron has really done all three of those things. Hes really made a big jump from his first year to his second year and thats why hes out there at the end of the game."

Against the Cowboys, Hernandez had a team-high and career-high eight receptions for 68 yards, which included the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It marked his second game back from that MCL injury, and as a result, his second-straight game wearing a knee-brace.

But even with the brace, Hernandez hasn't been a liability. He did, however, cough up a ball late in the third quarter of a 13-13 game against the Cowboys. It didn't result in any points for Dallas, but it was something the young tight end knew he had to put in the past quickly, considering his importance to the offense in a close game.

"Everyone's going to have drops, and you've just got to keep your head up," said Hernandez. "And I tried to keep my head up this week and make a play for Tom Brady.

"As a young player, you tend to think about it and be down about it," added Hernandez on his turnover. "But you have people like Tom and coaches that say, 'Forget about it, let's keep going.' And I just forgot about it, kept going, and Tom threw a great pass, and I just made a play for him."

That "great pass" capped a two-minute drill that led to a Patriots win, as Brady found Hernandez in the back-middle of the end zone for the touchdown.

"He was able to redeem himself today," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Luckily, he got that chance. That opportunity doesnt always come again. Weve just got to do a better job of taking care of the ball, period. Two fumbles, two interceptions youre not going to win many games with four turnovers. We were fortunate today, but we wont last doing that."

If Hernandez can continue to be a dependable receiver, the sky's the limit. His tight-end size, combined with his wide-receiver speed makes him as dependable as they come in the NFL.

And in case you weren't counting, he's not the only tight end on the Patriots' offense that's dependable. Rob Gronkowski is also deserving of being called another one of New England's dangerous offensive weapons.

Gronkowski had 7 catches for 74 yards on Sunday. And he's just one of the reasons Hernandez is able to get open so often.

"We've just got a lot of good players out there," said Hernandez. "We've got Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Ocho, me, Gronkowski. So many weapons, and it's tough to cover all of us, especially when you've got a quarterback who's going to put it in the right spot.

"Gronkowski can do so many things, he makes it easy on me," added Hernandez. "We work off each other. He gives me energy. I give him energy. When they double him, I'm open, and when they double me, he's open. So it's just a great combination."

And both Brady and Hernandez are taking full advantage of it.