FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots found an unexpected solution Sunday to their goal-line issues:
Just hand the ball to James Develin.
Never known for his ball-carrying abilities, the Pro Bowl fullback was an unlikely offensive hero in Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings, scoring the third and fourth touchdowns of his seven-year NFL career on a pair of goal-line plunges.
Develin had four total carries in the win, upping his career total to 12.
“Honestly, I’ve never dreamt about a game like this,” he said after the game. “This is the first time I’ve ever thought about it. I know my role, and that is to get these other guys in the end zone, but it’s a really cool experience to get in myself. I’m thankful for the coaches having the confidence to call those plays, and thankful for our offensive line doing a great job opening up holes.”
Develin, who also had a 1-yard rushing touchdown in the Patriots’ Week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, said Sunday was the first time he’d ever scored twice in a game at any level. After managing just one touchdown in his first 85 NFL games, he now has three in his last three contests.
As someone who knows the value of great blocking, Develin was sure to praise New England’s offensive line several times during his postgame media scrum.
“I’ve really got to give all the props to the offensive line,” Develin said. “All I did was get the ball, follow those guys and fall forward. They did a really awesome job all game, honestly. Those guys are a bunch of dogs, and I’m blessed to work with them.”
Develin, who has been with the Patriots since 2012, is a well-liked and respected figure in New England’s locker room. His teammates were happy to see his hard work rewarded with two trips to the end zone.
“Oh man, he’s the player of the game in my eyes,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “He stepped up big. He’s always blocking, lead blocking, third down, first down, whatever. His name was called, and today he got the opportunity to carry the ball a lot, and he did a hell of a job.”
“It’s awesome,” running back James White added. “Not many teams use a fullback across the league. We are one that does, and he makes plays for us. Not just blocking — he catches it, he’s getting touchdowns. So, I mean, it’s definitely well-deserved for him. He works hard for us each and every week at fullback, on special teams — just does whatever needs to be done. He’s a great player and a great teammate.”
Patriots equipment staffers presented Develin with the game balls from both his touchdowns. He plans to give them to his sons.
Some more notes and nuggets from Sunday’s game:
— The Patriots made a significant change to their secondary for this one, inserting undrafted rookie cornerback JC Jackson into the starting lineup for the first time. Jackson played the outside role usually filled by starter Jason McCourty, who shifted into the slot to follow Vikings No. 1 receiver Adam Thielen.
This left Jonathan Jones as the odd man out.
Jones, the Patriots’ top slot corner for most of the season, played just two defensive snaps against Minnesota, both of which came in the game’s final minute. The third-year pro made the most of his limited opportunities, though, intercepting a Kirk Cousins pass to ice the game.
Jones leads all Patriots defenders with three picks this season.
— Safety Obi Melifonwu played just 12 defensive snaps, but his role was an important one. The UConn product would enter the game on third downs and play man coverage on two-time Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Melifonwu, a physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, allowed one catch on one target for 5 yards to Rudolph. He actually was able to knock the ball out of Rudolph’s hands on the play, but officials ruled (and replay confirmed) that he’d established possession before it came loose.
“He did a tremendous job,” safety Duron Harmon said. “He’s big, he’s strong. He matches up well against a lot of tight ends. You know here, if you’ve got a trait or an intangible that’s going to help us win, we’re going to put you out there and (tell you to) do it. And that’s what he did (Sunday). So hats off to him, because Rudolph is a really good tight end, and he went out there and did his thing today.”
— Running back Rex Burkhead returned to the lineup after an eight-game stint on injured reserve. He carried the ball seven times for 20 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards.
“Whenever you get out there, get the ball back into your hands, get a feel for it, it starts to come back quickly,” he said. “That was a great opponent that we faced, so that was a big win for us.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images