Sunday's win over Houston presented an opportunity for a few unheralded Patriots to make their mark.
Rookie receiver Josh Boyce's activation against the Texans marked his second game in seven weeks. Though he played just 16 of 70 offensive snaps, he really made his presence known on special teams.
Boyce returned six kicks for 149 yards. His longest, a 41-yard haul, was the longest New England has had all season. The Patriots rewarded his run by capitalizing on the field position and scoring a touchdown just six plays later.
"Josh Boyce has worked hard since we drafted him," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noted Tuesday. "He hasn't had that many opportunities but that certainly hasn't affected his attitude or work ethic. I think he's a great example of a younger player who's got the right attitude and approach. He's really given the defensive multiple looks throughout the course of the season. He's really worked hard at trying to learn the nuances of doing the kickoff returns. And he's ready to go an play at multiple spots in our offense, which is a very big positive for a younger player.
"The other day he got thrown in there and played multiple positions, didn't have any mental errors. And I think he caught a ball and helped us in some situations, getting some things lined up, and a run that he hadn't practiced a whole lot over the course of the week. I'm really happy to have him on our team."
Another under-the-radar player who shined Sunday is James Develin.
Develin was a defensive end at Brown University who went undrafted in 2010. He muddled through the Arena and United football leagues before linking up with the Cincinnati Bengals. His NFL debut came in 2012 for the Patriots. Develin has since collected two rushes for four yards, and three catches for 31 yards.
A modest career.
"He's a good example of a guy that may not get a ton of the credit up front, but he certainly deserves his share of it because he's helped us in the running game as a lead blocker; we move him and put a little bit of a burden on him in terms of learning multiple positions; he's allowed us to use some different formations and different things in the passing game where he needs to be flexible and allow us to move him in different areas of the field in the formation. He's definitely learned those things and embraced that role," McDaniels explained.
"He's an incredibly unselfish player, works hard, and definitely adds an element of toughness to our team and to our offense. He comes to work every day and gives you everything he has. I think any time you can add a player to a team like that can only help you."
McDaniels added Develin has focused on versatility to also help as a lead blocker, catch the ball out of the backfield, and work as a tight end. The fullback impressed against Houston with a hard-nosed 1-yard touchdown run where he dodged and rolled off would-be tacklers to force his way into the end zone.
"He's smart, he's tough, and he's dependable. And there's usually there's a place on your team for guys like that. He's certainly helped us in numerous ways. I was very happy to see him have a chance to score the other day."
Some may have been surprised Sunday to see backup players steal a bit of the spotlight. McDaniels said he and the coaching staff were not.
"James has embraced his role and I think we have a lot [of players] like that. I don't know anyone on our team that hasn't really done that."