EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Shane Vereen has proven to be as versatile as advertised, which is a big reason the 3-2 Giants are currently in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The running back, one of the Giants' most important free agent offseason acquisitions, is third on the team in both rushing (101 yards on 25 carries) and receiving (20 catches for 208 yards).
His multiple skills last night helped the Giants overcome a late deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 30-27, in a thriller in MetLife Stadium. Vereen led the Giants with eight receptions for 86 yards, including a two-yarder for the game's first touchdown, and three catches that accounted for 51 of the Giants' 82 yards on the game-winning drive. His last touch was a 24-yard reception that advanced the ball to the San Francisco 20-yard line. Two plays later, Eli Manning hit tight end Larry Donnell for the game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass with just 21 seconds remaining.**[
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The Giants coveted Vereen in free agency because of his receiving skills out of the backfield, as well as his ability to run the ball.
"Last night was a great example of some of the things that he can do in certain situations when the defense may in fact think they've got you in a position where they have the upper hand," coach Tom Coughlin said today. "And someone like Shane can determine that might not necessarily be so. Have we ever had a player like this, to be able to utilize his talents? Probably not to this degree. So we're just looking forward to continuing to utilize his talent and his ability along with the other players that we have offensively."
Is this the role Vereen expected to fill when he left the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to join the Giants?
"That's a good question, because I didn't really know how much to expect," Vereen said. "Me personally, I just knew I needed to come in and get my role down and get my plays that I needed to learn and get the playbook kind of situated and really feel comfortable with that. That was really my main goal coming in. Now that I've got that, I'm kind of able to play a little freer."
Vereen was a multipurpose performer in New England. In four seasons, he gained 907 yards and scored seven touchdowns rushing, and gained 1,023 yards and scored seven touchdowns receiving. In 2014, he had career highs of 391 rushing yards and 52 catches for 447 yards. Vereen set a Super Bowl record for receptions by a running back with 11 in the Patriots' victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.
Now he's thrilled to be with the Giants.
"When I was looking for a team, I just wanted to go to an organization that a) cared about the players, and b) had some success
winning. And that's exactly what has been happening here in New York. I couldn't have picked a better organization. I can't speak highly enough about this organization, about the coaching staff and the job that they've done so far this season. Hopefully, we can continue to improve."
Vereen was actually Manning's most experienced target on that last drive. Victor Cruz remains sidelined with a strained calf, and the Giants' other top receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, were on the sideline with strained hamstrings (Beckham returned for the final two plays, and drew a key pass interference penalty). The wide receivers for most of the series were Dwayne Harris, Myles White and Geremy Davis (total career receptions: 55, 44 of them by Harris). Donnell is in his second full-time season.
So it was logical that Manning looked early and often to Vereen on the game-deciding march. But Vereen didn't take the field knowing he would be the primary target.
"I knew I had been singled up for the whole game and it had just been one-on-one coverage," he said. "So I knew that I was going to have opportunities to make some plays. I was just focused on winning, just winning my matchups and trying to be an option for Eli to throw the ball to."
Vereen is on pace to finish the season with 64 catches this season, which would shatter his career high by 28. But his only concern is helping the Giants improve to 4-2 when they travel to Philadelphia next Monday night.
"That's a lot of catches," he said. "Take it game by game; still got 11 more. Still got some big games coming up and we've got Philly on Monday. So hopefully, we can go to Philly and get a win."
If they do, Vereen will likely be a big part of it.
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