FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Matthew Mulligan may be needed to take on a bigger role for the New England Patriots.
Right now he’s the only healthy tight end on the roster.
Game-changer Rob Gronkowski was injured in Sunday’s heart-stopping 27-26 victory over the Cleveland Browns and early reports indicate that he suffered a torn ACL to his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. Michael Hoomanawanui was inactive for the third consecutive game with a knee injury.
Mulligan, primarily used as a blocker, got involved with a nifty 15-yard reception Sunday, the play punctuated when he tried to hurdle a defensive back. That play came in the fourth quarter and helped set up a 50-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
Asked about his hurdle effort – he was actually met in midair by Joe Haden and spun around – Mulligan laughed.
“That was not very smart,” said Mulligan, a West Enfield native and former UMaine Black Bear. “In my whole career I’ve never, ever done that. I usually just plow guys over. But all week long watching film, I thought maybe they’d go low, go low, go low. So I decided to go high but he did not take the bait.”
At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, Mulligan said he has no choice most times but to try to run over a defensive back.
“I thought maybe I’d show a little athleticism,” he said. “And it didn’t work out that well.”
Asked if he was channeling his inner-Gronkowski, Mulligan said, “Hopefully Gronk would have been proud.”
Of the hurdle, Coach Bill Belichick said, “He was being aggressive, trying to make a play. A lot of times when you see a big guy like that run with the ball, guys will come in and try to tackle low. Certainly Cleveland’s defensive backs do a lot of that.”
He now has two catches for 16 catches and a touchdown this season.
“Hopefully I can just continue to push and I have to get more familiar with what the offense is doing and do what I can do to help the team,” he said.
MULLIGAN GAVE a big shout-out to Jack Cosgrove and UMaine, whose season ended Saturday with a 41-27 loss to New Hampshire in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision championship.
“Congratulations on a great regular season and being able to play a playoff game at home was gigantic,” he said. “Obviously they would have liked to win. So congratulations to Jack Cosgrove on a great season. Get them next year.”
SHANE VEREEN has become quite the offensive threat.
His 12 catches for 153 yards set franchise records for most catches and receiving yards in a single game for a running back.
He also became just the fourth running back in the last 10 years to gain at least 150 receiving yards in a game, joining Brian Westbrook (156, 2004), Jahvid Best (154, 1010) and Matt Forte (151, 2010).
Vereen also rushed for a 6-yard touchdown.
“Shane, the more opportunity he’s gotten, the more he’s been able to do for us,” said Belichick.
Vereen missed eight games after breaking his wrist in the season opener. Since he’s returned he’s become an integral part in the offense.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” he said. “A lot of peaks and valleys. But that’s football and that’s how it goes. I’m just happy to be here right now. I’m happy that I can be part of the team.”
ONSIDE KICKS are a tricky proposition. In fact, Sunday’s was the first time the Patriots had recovered an onside kick that led to the winning score on the next possession.
The Patriots were down by 26-14 when Tom Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman and Gostkowski kicked the PAT with 1:01 left. Then Gostkowski nubbed the kickoff toward the Cleveland line. The ball appeared to hit a Cleveland player before it went 10 yards and Patriot Kyle Arrington recovered it.
Belichick said the Patriots work on that play all the time.
“We had to make just about every play we made at the end today and fortunately we did,” he said. “Usually when you put yourself in that kind of situation it doesn’t always happen that way.”
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: