LINCOLN — It’s pretty much the Patriot Way. New England likes to address its running back position by committee.
In the past six years, the Patriots have had one rusher reach 1,000 yards in a season. Snaps, carries and catches are typically spread among three or four players to keep them fresh and the offense humming.
So when former Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead went down with a neck injury in Week 3 — and was placed on injured reserve for eight games — the Patriots not only lost a versatile player, but a part of the formula.
He returned in Week 13. New England has had just one stinker of an offensive game since.
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“That is what’s great about this offense,” Burkhead said in a Boston.com story when he returned in early December. “We have guys who can do multiple things and line up anywhere and, hopefully, when your number is called, you step up. That’s what I try to do. Whatever role I have, I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Burkhead’s role was crucial in the AFC championship. He ran the ball 12 times for 41 yards and two touchdowns, and he scored the winner against the Chiefs to put the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
“Let’s try to get this thing in,” Burkhead told reporters when asked what he was thinking as the final play was called. “I kind of saw an opening and I was just hoping to get there before the defense did.”
Burkhead reached the end zone. Now he returns to his second Super Bowl. Rookie Sony Michel and Patriot veteran James White join him as backs.
The system works for the players — even if they don’t always know who will be in the game when it’s decided.
“We’ve got Sony, Rex, myself,” White told reporters in late December. “Everybody can catch, everybody can block. Coach can call any play, no matter who’s in there. So, it keeps guys fresh and defenses have to pay attention to who’s in there.”
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Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots; Ndamukong Suh, Los Angeles Rams
Burkhead had seven carries for 43 yards and two catches for 15 in the Patriots' 13-3 victory. Burkhead's long run of 26 yards led to a fourth-quarter field goal. Suh had two tackles and a quarterback hit. Another former Husker, Zac Taylor, was on the sidelines as the Rams' quarterback coach.
Nate Gerry, Philadelphia Eagles; Rex Burkhead and Vincent Valentine, New England Patriots
Gerry played special teams for Philadelphia during its 41-33 win. Vincent Valentine was out with injury and Rex Burkhead had three rushes for 18 yards and a 46-yard reception for the Patriots.
Vincent Valentine, New England Patriots
Valentine played as a reserve defensive lineman and on special teams but did not record any stats in New England's victory against Atlanta.
Zaire Anderson, Denver Broncos
Anderson was a member of Denver's practice squad during the Broncos' Super Bowl championship season.
Alfonzo Dennard and Eric Martin, New England Patriots
Dennard (pictured) missed the entire playoffs because of injury. Martin was a member of New England's practice squad.
Stewart Bradley, Denver Broncos
Bradley was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season and never played in a game for the Broncos.
Sam Koch, Baltimore Ravens
Koch made the play that essentially sealed the victory for Baltimore. With a 34-29 lead and 11 seconds remaining, Koch received the snap on fourth down in his own end zone and took an intentional safety that left San Francisco with only four seconds on the ensuing safety punt. The 49ers weren't able to score, and the Ravens won, 34-31.
Prince Amukamara, New York Giants
Amukamara recorded one tackle in the Super Bowl victory over New England, capping a rookie season hampered by a broken foot suffered in training camp.
Brandon Jackson, Green Bay Packers
Jackson did not record a rushing attempt in the Super Bowl victory over Pittsburgh, but he did have one catch for 14 yards.
Carl Nicks and Scott Shanle, New Orleans Saints; Cody Glenn, Indianapolis Colts
Both Shanle (linebacker) and Nicks (left guard) started for the Super Bowl-winning Saints. Shanle recorded six tackles and defended a pair of passes. Nicks and the Saints' offensive line surrendered one sack but paved the way for only 51 rushing yards. Glenn played primarily on special teams for the Colts but did not record any stats.
Ralph Brown, Arizona Cardinals
Brown recorded one tackle in the loss to Pittsburgh, but he almost saved the victory for Arizona. Ben Roethlisberger's game-winning touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes went just over Brown's fingertips.
Le Kevin Smith, New England Patriots
Smith did not record any stats serving as a reserve defensive lineman in New England's loss to the Giants.
Mike Brown, Chicago Bears
Brown was on injured reserve for Chicago's Super Bowl loss to Indianapolis after suffering a Lisfranc fracture during Week 6 of the regular season.
Josh Brown and Grant Wistrom, Seattle Seahawks
Brown (pictured) made a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter but missed on attempts of 54 and 50 yards later in the game. Wistrom started at defensive end and recorded two tackles, including an eight-yard sack, but Seattle lost to Pittsburgh, 21-10.
Russ Hochstein, New England Patriots
Hochstein was a backup offensive lineman in the Patriots' victory against Philadelphia.
Russ Hochstein, New England Patriots; Mike Minter and Mike Rucker, Carolina Panthers
Hochstein started at left guard on a New England offensive line that didn't allow a sack and led the way for 127 rushing yards. He was also on the field for Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal. Minter (strong safety) and Rucker (defensive end) both also started for the Panthers. Minter (pictured) had nine tackles and five passes defended. Rucker recorded two tackles.
Eric Johnson and Adam Treu, Oakland Raiders
Johnson (pictured) recovered a blocked punt and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown. Treu started at center, but Oakland's offensive line gave up five sacks in the loss to Tampa Bay.
Grant Wistrom, St. Louis Rams
Wistrom started at defensive end and recorded five tackles, including a four-yard sack.
Christian Peter, New York Giants
Peter had two tackles as a backup defensive lineman in New York's loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Grant Wistrom, St. Louis Rams; Doug Colman, Tennessee Titans
Wistrom (pictured) started at defensive end and recorded three tackles for the victorious Rams. Colman did not record any stats as a backup linebacker for the Titans.
Neil Smith, Denver Broncos; Michael Booker, Atlanta Falcons
Smith (pictured) recorded one tackle as a backup defensive lineman for the winning Broncos. Booker started at corner for Atlanta.
Neil Smith and Tony Veland, Denver Broncos; Tyrone Williams, Green Bay Packers
Smith (pictured) started at defensive end and recovered a fumble in the Denver victory. Veland served as a backup defensive back. Williams started at corner for Green Bay and also recovered a fumble.
Tyrone Williams and Calvin Jones, Green Bay Packers
Both Williams (defensive back, pictured) and Jones (running back) served as backups in Green Bay's victory over New England.
Donta Jones and Brenden Stai, Pittsburgh Steelers
Stai started at right guard, and Jones (pictured) was a backup linebacker in Pittsburgh's loss to Dallas.
John Parrella, San Diego Chargers
Parrella was a backup defensive lineman in San Diego's loss to the 49ers.
John Parrella and Nate Turner, Buffalo Bills
Both Parrella and Turner (pictured) were in their rookie seasons with Buffalo but neither recorded any stats in the Bills' Super Bowl loss to Dallas.