Kevin Faulk's injury will sting Patriots

The term "third-down back" usually conjures images of a role player who can come off the sideline and turn a dump pass into a first down.

Kevin Faulk means more than that, as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. If Faulk's knee injury sidelines him, then Tom Brady won't merely lose a trusty target.

"That role is a lot more than having the ball in your hands," Belichick said. "Kevin is in there a lot of plays when he doesn't have it in his hands, blocking, blitz pickup, formation. It's not just handling the ball."

Last season, Faulk rushed for 335 yards (5.4 yards a carry) and two touchdowns, adding 37 receptions for 301 yards and a touchdown. He ran for 18 first downs and caught passes for 13 first downs.

Belichick said the Patriots still are evaluating Faulk's injury, but he reportedly will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. He was hurt in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's loss to the New York Jets and could be out a while.

Belichick wouldn't rule out Faulk for the upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills, but the coach also didn't dismiss the possibility of Faulk ending up on season-ending injured reserve.

"We'll try to put together a game plan that we can use to utilize all of our players and give ourselves the best chance to deal with the issues and the problems that Buffalo presents, which are numerous," Belichick said. "However that turns out will be whatever we feel is our best chance this week against Buffalo."

The Patriots are thin at running back after trading last year's leading rusher, Laurence Maroney, to the Denver Broncos a week ago.

One of the substitutes could be running back Danny Woodhead. The Patriots signed the former Jets reserve Saturday but didn't use him against his former team.

Belichick added he didn't have enough time to pump Woodhead for info on the Jets because by the time they signed him, the Patriots already were out of town. But signing Woodhead a day before the game probably was enough gamesmanship to get under the Jets' skin for a few hours.