FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots honored a young fan who passed away earlier this week, holding a moment of silence for Sam Berns before Saturday’s AFC divisional round playoff game with the Indianapolis Colts.
Berns, a 17-year-old from Foxborough, Mass., who was inflicted with progeria, a rare genetic disease that causes premature aging, died Friday night.
His story was introduced to the world in the HBO documentary, “Life According to Sam,’’ and the Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, reached out to him after it aired. Berns became a source of inspiration for the team.
“I loved Sam Berns and am richer for having known him,’’ said Kraft in a statement. “He was a special young man whose inspirational story and positive outlook on life touched my heart.’’
Berns had met the team after practice earlier in the season and, Kraft said, inspired their victory at Atlanta.
Kraft added that earlier in the week he had asked Berns to be an honorary captain for this playoff game.
“I was looking forward to spending more time with Sam and his family,’’ said Kraft. “News of his passing came as a complete surprise. It is another reminder that we can’t take anything for granted.’’
Progeria affects an estimated one in eight million births. Those afflicted generally live to their mid-teens.
Berns was honored last November by the Boston Bruins when they held a Progeria Awareness Night.
THE WEEKLONG debate over why the Colts signed former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch is over: It wasn’t to play.
Branch was inactive for Saturday’s game. He was signed Monday and earned $23,000, plus his per diem for the trip to his old stomping grounds.
When Branch was signed, there was much speculation that the Colts were simply trying to get some inside information from him on his former team. Coach Chuck Pagano dismissed on Tuesday that Branch was brought in for those purposes.
“Every decision we make is based on two things: what’s best for the team and what helps us win,’’ he said. “And we feel we’ve got a guy that’s a former Super Bowl MVP that’s played a lot of good football at a high level, so he can help us.’’
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick wasn’t all that concerned about Branch’s signing.
“I think that’s way overrated,’’ said Belichick, when asked about Branch giving the Colts info. “A lot of times the information in those situations is sometimes misinformation because things could change from whenever that person was (with his old team).’’
CORNERBACK Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder/knee) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), both listed as questionable (a 50-50 chance to play) for the Patriots, were in the lineup.
MATTHEW MULLIGAN, the Enfield native playing his first season with the Patriots, was making his fifth appearance in the NFL playoffs. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound tight end played in four playoff games with the New York Jets, the last in 2010.
Mulligan found his niche as a blocking tight end with the Patriots. He played 292 of 1,197 offensive snaps this year (24 percent) while also getting in on 87 special-teams plays.
THE PATRIOTS know who they’re playing next year, just not when. The NFL recently released the 2014 opponents.
Here’s a look at the Patriots’ opponents next year:
Home: Buffalo, Miami, New York Jets, Denver, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati.
Away: Buffalo, Miami, New York Jets, Kansas City, San Diego, Green Bay, Minnesota, Indianapolis.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: