FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Nervous? Of course Kevin Faulk was nervous last Sunday when he learned he would be starting against the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first game of the season.

“If I wasn’t nervous, then you might be worried about me,” said Faulk. “Being nervous means my love for the game, my passion for the game, is still there.”

His 2010 season ended when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the second game against the New York Jets. He was placed on injured reserve and missed the rest of the season. He sat out the first six games this season on the physically unable to perform list.

But he had no doubts he would return. “I had done too much in the offseason to get to the point where I thought I could compete,” he said.

His value to the Patriots was underscored when Coach Bill Belichick started him against the Steelers last Sunday. Faulk gained 32 yards on six rushes, caught five passes for 20 yards and generally played the game that has kept him in the NFL for 13 years.

“I’ve just got to keep building, keep getting better and be as consistent as I can be,” Faulk said last week before practice. “I’m still behind the eight-ball right now. I just have to get in there and get comfortable.”

The Patriots (5-2), who play the New York Giants at 4:15 p.m. today at Gillette Stadium, are simply glad to have Faulk back. Faulk is fifth in team history in all-purpose yards (12,247 coming into the season).

“I think he did some good things (against Pittsburgh),” said Belichick. “I’m sure he’ll get better each week with more practices, more snaps It was good to have him back and I think he was glad to be back.”

Faulk’s presence not only gives the Patriots another weapon but, according to Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, a security blanket for quarterback Tom Brady.

“He’s a veteran player, he knows their offense, he’s played in it for a long time,” said Coughlin. “He knows the role that he plays and Tom Brady relies on him and has confidence that he’ll be where he wants him to be, and he can also rely on him as a pass protector.”

And that’s important against the Giants, with their fierce pass rush. The Giants lead the NFL with 26 sacks.

The only sign of Faulk’s injury is the scar on the inside of his right knee. He wears a brace to protect it, but otherwise is unhindered.

The only time Faulk ever thought his career might be over was during his rehab.

“Early on, when you start your rehab, when you’re beginning to run, or do whatever you can, you do doubt yourself,” he said. “And once you’re able to run, you think everything is normal. But it’s not.”

He is sore, he said, but ready.

“There’s a game to play,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready to go.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH