FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots don’t have many members of their 53-man roster who haven’t touched the playing field and contributed in some significant fashion. With injuries, everyone is likely to get a shot come game day.
On Sunday, undrafted rookie defensive lineman Justin Francis got his shot. Filling in on sub packages for Ron Brace, who was inactive with an elbow injury, he left his mark on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. With 3:28 left in the first quarter, Francis plowed through the left side of the Bills’ offensive line to lay a monstrous hit on Fitzpatrick. The Bills QB had just a sliver of a moment to jettison the ball before going down with the sack.
It was a hello, world moment for Francis, who had been inactive for the first four games, and snuck in as a sub in the last three without making a dent. Getting that hit on Fitzpatrick was Francis’ first real action since playing for Rutgers Dec. 30, 2011.
“It felt good,” Francis said. “I just got up and looked to see if I sacked him, actually. I didn’t, but I caused some pressure. Me and the fellas caused some pressure on him. So it was a great feeling. Kinda flushed that play [though], put that play behind me and moved on to the next one. You know that’s how you have to do, good or bad. You know, at the end of the day, it’s a great feeling.
“It’s always a good feeling to get on the field,” Francis continued. “Just being out there with guys that you grind with every day and come to work with every day. And guys who, you know, I look up to. Playing next to Vince [Wilfork] and Kyle Love and Rob Ninkovich. It feels good, you know, just staying prayed up and counting my blessings and just trying to attack every play like it’s my last.”
Also making his first appearance for the Patriots was tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, the 10-year veteran who last played for the Minnesota Vikings. He got in the game in the Patriots’ goal line package, filling the void left by tight end Aaron Hernandez, who missed Sunday’s game with a lingering ankle injury. Shiancoe had a small role, but it was one he was grateful for after being sidelined with a shoulder injury for the first nine weeks of the season. He had been on the injured reserve with a designation to return list before being activated on Saturday.
“Yeah man, great to be back,” Shiancoe said. “Just to get my feet wet a little bit. Thank God.”
Shiancoe was a productive tight end for the Vikings, catching 208 passes and 24 touchdowns while he was there for five seasons. His role may still be determined going forward, especially if Hernandez is still hurt.
“Well you gonna have to ask Bill about that,” Shiancoe said. “I know that definitely have the skills to contribute wherever he asks me to contribute, basically. Just get in where you fit in, really. Each week I guess that it all depends on the game plan, on however they plan on using me. I’ll just be ready when they call me, call my number.
“Let me tell you something, I’ve been out of football since last season. It’s definitely 100 percent exciting to be out there. Like I said, thank God, right.”