Vereen's return signals inception of long-awaited juggernaut

This is what Patriots' fans have been waiting all season to see.

On a bright late summer afternoon in September, the New England Patriots started their season with plenty of mystery and intrigue associated with their new look offense - what with slot receiver Wes Welker essentially being fired, Danny Woodhead signing with San Diego for what amounts to chump change and Aaron Hernandez landing in the juzgado...
Patriots' fans hope to see plenty of this going forward

...also with all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski on the mend from more surgeries than a porn starlet, the team starting the year with three rookie receivers, an odd assortment of tight ends that all put together couldn't match the production of a Gronk having a bad day, and an offensive line whose collective pass blocking skill was under scrutiny after being exposed by the Detroit Lions in the preseason.

But the one thing that the Patriots could count on was a running back corps that was so diverse and individually talented that their potential to build upon last season's success was very real and, as we saw in that season opener, promised to be the cornerstone of a new offensive philosophy.

But it took all of one play for the unit to absorb a cruel hit that would take over two months to recover from.

On the very first offensive play of the season, running back Shane Vereen broke a bone in his wrist and was eventually placed on the teams' Injured Reserved List with a designation to return - but took a page out of Logan Mankins book of pain and taped an aspirin to his wrist and finished the game with 101 yards rushing on 14 carries and added another 58 yards on four pass receptions, giving us a tantalizing taste of what we could expect from him upon his return...

...which looks more and more like that's going to be on Monday night when the New England Patriots travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to to take on the Carolina Panthers under the lights at Bank of America Stadium.

Assuming that Vereen picks up where he left off in Buffalo, he will join explosive lead back Stevan Ridley and grinding clock killer LeGarrette Blount in a backfield which may suddenly become one of the most dangerous units in the National Football League.

And combined with a healthy group of pass catchers featuring Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, all the pieces to the offensive juggernaut are finally in place.

Vereen's skill set speaks to New England's need for a true all-purpose back, the final piece to the puzzle - tough between the tackles runner with ankle-breaking moves on the second level and an extra gear in the open field, and in the passing game he enables the jailbreak screen, can line up in the slot or outside the numbers and has terrific hands.

The presence of an all-purpose back opens up the entire playbook for coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, but also increases the probability for success in other areas.

Just as Gronkowski's return made an immediate impact on both the space that the other pass catchers had to work with and the efficiency of the running game, Vereen's return should enhance those things to the point of overwhelming the opposing defense.

So the gang's all together for the first time this season, and it's going to be a treat to see just how explosive a unit the Patriots' offense evolves into going forward.