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Knee holds up for Hernandez; Mon. notes

Posted Oct 10, 2011

Returning after a two-week layoff, Aaron Hernandez helps the Patriots beat the Jets in Week 5.

During pre-game warm-ups, something just didn’t look right.

Aaron Hernandez was moving around a bit awkwardly, the result of a cumbersome brace and wrapping around his sprained left knee. The injury precluded the second-year tight end from playing the previous two games, but against New England’s AFC East rivals from New York, he and the Patriots medical staff did everything they could to get him back on the field.

“Aaron has really worked hard the last couple of weeks to get back out there,” head coach Bill Belichick remarked afterward. “He’s in here early, he stays late; he's leaving when the coaches are leaving. He’s getting a lot of extra treatment. He was able to come out and practice later on in the week and handle a little more each day and kept getting better, so we felt confident going into the game – and he felt confident going into the game.”

Initially, the brace seemed less to improve and more to impede Hernandez’ mobility, but as the game wore on, he began to look more like his old self. Early on, in fact, the Patriots tested Hernandez to the max by sending him on several fly patterns and throwing the ball his way. Each time, though, quarterback Tom Brady’s passes sailed just a bit too far, but the message sent was clearly received: Hernandez was back.

“Felt pretty good out there. Felt like the knee wasn’t hurting,” the tight end told reporters at this locker.

He did admit that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the appendage at first, but that he expected that after talking with his locker neighbor, Wes Welker, who wore a similar contraption last season for several games while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.

“Yeah, from not practicing in it, I had to get back into [the groove], but I felt pretty good. Maybe slowed me down a little bit, but you don’t really think about it when you’re out there,” Hernandez continued. “Wes told me it’s going to feel a little weird, but when you’re in the moment in a game, all the fans out there, national TV, you kind of forget about the brace.

Hernandez finished the game with five catches for 56 yards, but those numbers could have – perhaps should have – been higher. He also dropped what would have been a touchdown at the end of the first half, but the ball bounced off his hands right into the arms of Jets corner Antonio Cromartie.

“I sat down between those two defenders ... That’s just me,” Hernandez explained. “Big-time players have to make big-time plays and I came up short there, but I’ll try to make up for it next week [against Dallas].”

“Again,” added Belichick, “he got behind the defense a couple times, so he obviously got his speed back. I thought he had a good couples days of practice at the end of the week and was able to carry it over into the game. He's a tough guy to match up against. He’s a good player.”

Good as he is, Hernandez wasn’t quite able to connect with Brady on those long passes, something he lamented in the moments immediately following the final gun.

“I definitely felt good when the ball was in the air. Maybe if I had my knee brace off I would have gotten to that ball,” Hernandez concluded with a laughs.

By the look and sound of it, however, Hernandez and his brace were able to get the job done. With one more game to go before New England’s bye week, it’s possible he could wear a lighter version, or even shed the brace altogether, when the Patriots resume their schedule at the end of October.

A start for Ihedigbo

Patriots-Jets tilts are always emotional ones, but for safety James Ihedigbo, yesterday’s game took on added significance. Not only was the Massachusetts native facing his former employers from New York for the first time, he was also given his first start as a member of the team he grew up supporting.

Ihedigbo got the nod after regular starting safety Josh Barrett was deactivated with a hamstring injury.

“Excitement,” was his reaction when told he would start.

‘An opportunity to be part of something great on defense and showcase my talent as well,” he added. “Opportunity’s the key to life, so, you have to make the best of it.”

Ihedigbo spoke to reporters Monday afternoon in the locker room after reviewing the game film.

“After watching the tape, we left some plays on the field,” he acknowledged. “We learned from the mistakes we made, got the W, it was a great division win. I was pretty happy.”

Where’d everybody go?

Today’s Columbus Day in the U.S., and it sure felt like a holiday in the Patriots locker room. Ihedigbo was the lone player who gave any of his time to talk with reporters. In fact, hardly any players were around at all following team meetings and film review sessions.

The pace is sure to pick up by Wednesday, undoubtedly, when the Patriots get back to prepare in earnest for this Sunday’s opponent, the Dallas Cowboys.