New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will be placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Faulk was knocked out of Sunday's loss to the New York Jets in the fourth quarter after an 8-yard run, and members of the team's training and medical staff were looking at the area around his right knee.
Losing Faulk is a tough blow to the Patriots, who traded running back Laurence Maroney to the Broncos last week. Faulk has played more snaps than any Patriots running back in each season since 2007, because he is the team's "passing" back who is most often on the field in three-receiver sets. He had been targeted in the passing game 10 times, the fourth-highest total on the team, while also serving as quarterback Tom Brady's last layer of protection as a blocker. He had eight rushes for 45 yards and six receptions for 62 yards.
"He's a unique player; there's no question about it," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of Faulk. "He's proven year in and year out how valuable of a player that he is, and nobody respects Kevin Faulk more than our team and our club, and myself included."
Sammy Morris stepped into the "passing back" role Sunday when Faulk was knocked out in the fourth quarter, and he's the likely replacement in the short term. Former Jets running back Danny Woodhead, signed to a one-year contract Saturday, also figures to be in the mix.
The Patriots also could get creative and tap the versatility of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has lined up in the backfield at times, or look to the free-agent market, where there have been few if any Faulk types available since veteran Brian Westbrook joined the San Francisco 49ers in mid-August.
A 12-year veteran, the 34-year-old Faulk is one of the Patriots' four captains. He is the longest-tenured player on the team.
One question left unanswered is Faulk's mindset for the future. Will he attempt to make a comeback next season?
Faulk was playing on a one-year deal so he'll be a free agent in 2011. This past offseason, he had interest from multiple teams, at least one of which offered him a multiple-year contract, but he was set on returning to the Patriots as long as there was an offer.
In March, Faulk had relayed a conversation he had with his wife about his future.
"She said, 'We got this [contract] done, so what's next?' The only thing I could tell her is that right now I don't know the answer," Faulk said at the time. "We'll see at the end of the season how I feel physically and mentally. But right now I feel good."
The Patriots have had several significant ACL tears in recent years. Tom Brady's 2008 season ended in the first quarter of the first game with that injury, and Wes Welker needed seven months of rehab to return from his ACL tear, which occurred in the 2009 season finale.