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Third-stringer Shane Vereen stars for Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - Shane Vereen went from anonymous backup to the spotlight for the New England Patriots on Sunday.

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A third-string running back, Vereen became essential in New England's offense after Danny Woodhead was injured on the Patriots' first play from scrimmage. While Stevan Ridley, a 1,000-yard rusher, maintained the lead role, Vereen was the guy getting into the end zone.

Three times, in fact.

``Shane had a great game, just a huge growing-up moment for him, very special,'' Tom Brady said after Vereen gained 124 total yards in a 41-28 divisional-round win over Houston.

Vereen gained 400 yards during the season, including 251 on the ground and 149 in the air. His workload was limited and to expect the second-year back from California to have a big impact in the playoffs was foolhardy.

Yet there he was, catching TD passes of 8 and 33 yards from Brady and running in for a 1-yard score. The 33-yarder featured a difficult over-the-shoulder grab along the left sideline.

``I don't come into the game knowing how much anyone is going to play,'' Vereen said. ``I come into the game ready to go, and if my number is called, I do my best for the team.''

Vereen took advantage and had a huge game, but he isn't even the most famous person in his family. Actor, singer and dancer Ben Vereen is Shane's father's cousin.

New England (13-4) couldn't have gotten to yet another AFC championship game without someone stepping up when Woodhead hurt his thumb, then star tight end Rob Gronkowski reinjured his left forearm eight offensive plays into the game.

``We hate to lose Woody,'' said Vereen, a second-round draft pick in 2011. ``He is such a key part of our offense, but at the same time all of the running backs hold ourselves accountable to be able to step up when somebody does go down.''

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Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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