Faulk has torn ACL
Patriots won’t confirm injury, which could end his season
The Patriots may well be without their longest-tenured and perhaps most respected player for the rest of the season, as an NFL source said yesterday that running back Kevin Faulk suffered a torn right ACL in Sunday’s loss to the Jets.
It is the third time in as many years one of New England’s key offensive players went down with this injury. Last year, it was Wes Welker, and in 2008, it was Tom Brady.
In the fourth quarter, Faulk got the ball from Brady on a first-down play and ran wide left, toward the Jets sideline. New York cornerback Drew Coleman knocked Faulk out of bounds with a low tackle.
The Patriots training staff sprinted across the field to tend to Faulk, who spent several minutes on his belly and then on all fours before walking across the field to the New England bench on his own power. As he walked, Faulk flung his mouthpiece across the turf in frustration.
On the bench, trainers tended to his right knee. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik placed his hand on Faulk’s head, giving it an affectionate rub as many teammates came over to check on the cap tain.
After a few moments, Faulk took off his gloves and unwrapped the tape from his hands. He paced the sideline with a slight limp.
In the locker room after the game, he quietly packed his bag for the trip home, tears in his eyes.
The team has not yet made an announcement about Faulk’s injury, nor made the roster move of placing him on season-ending injured reserve. The recovery time for an ACL is a minimum of six months.
During his lunchtime conference call, Bill Belichick said the team had not made a decision.
“They’re still working on it,’’ said the coach. “We’re not even 48 hours out yet, so we’ll see how things go in the next day or so.’’
Faulk, 34, is the only player on the New England roster who predates Belichick. A second-round draft pick out of Louisiana State in 1999, he eventually found his niche as a third-down back and also became a tremendous pass blocker for a player his size.
Like his New England mentor, Troy Brown, Faulk is a jack-of-all-trades. He is the franchise leader in kickoff returns, kickoff-return yardage, and total return yardage.
He is also tops in receptions by a running back, and fourth overall, with 422; and despite being the featured back just one season, he is fifth in rushing yards with 3,550.
Last year, Faulk was named to the Patriots’ 50th anniversary team as its return man.
A few days before the Jets game, Fred Taylor called Faulk an “unsung hero’’ for what he does.
“Definitely underrated, doesn’t get enough credit,’’ Taylor said. “They should have a Pro Bowl position for a specialist back, third-down back, pass-receiving back, or whatever the case may be, and he’d be the No. 1 guy each year, in my opinion.’’
An injury of this magnitude is devastating for any player, but should Faulk be placed on IR, it could be even more heartbreaking: He signed a one-year contract before this season, and with the threat of a lockout in the NFL looming next season, he may have played his last down.
At a charity golf event in Mashpee yesterday, teammates Wes Welker and Matt Light spoke of Faulk’s impact on the Patriots.
“Kevin is such a unique player,’’ Welker said. “He’s such a great matchup for us against teams, and not only that, he’s a great leader and a great guy.
“Whenever you put him in the game, [opponents] don’t know if we’re going to go empty [backfield] and throw the ball around . . . and he can play running back, too. It creates a problem for them of what personnel they want to put in the game.’’
“Kevin always comes up with big plays when we need him most,’’ said Light. “Whether he’s running a screen or trying to hit it downhill in a sub run package, whatever it is he’s out there doing, he obviously gains tons of yardage for us. Always has.
“It would be tough going out there without No. 33.’’
Monique Walker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.