There was no guarantee, Patriots coach Bill Belichick conceded on Friday, that Fred Taylor was going to return this season even if healthy.
Belichick was prepared to carry Taylor -- who injured his ankle against Baltimore in Week 4 -- as a perpetually inactive player as long as he had the roster space to do so. Carrying five running backs on the roster gave the Patriots that flexibility. But when Sammy Morris went down with a knee injury two weeks later, the Patriots' depth at running back was starting to run out.
Taylor always was going to be healthy in time for the playoffs -- if not the final month of the season. The fact that the Patriots didn't put him on injured reserve right away made that clear. But had something happened to Kevin Faulk or Laurence Maroney, it's safe to say that the Patriots would have had to go find another running back -- and Taylor might have been a casualty.
"You get into that situation we've been in before: You have players like that, and then you get into a bind where you lose some guys and put some players on injured reserve, and you need some spots," Belichick said. "Sometimes those players have to go on IR to create a roster spot. That never really happened for us this year, but if it had, we would have had to make a decision. A couple of times, we've been kind of close -- but for the most part, ... we have enough players that we're deactivating eight healthy players and not guys that everybody's injured and they're deactivated because they're hurt."
Taylor has more than 10,000 rushing yards in his career and has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in his career six times -- all with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 33-year-old running back rushed for 201 yards on 45 carries in four games with the Patriots before his injury.
He's as aware of anyone how easy it would have been for the Patriots to place him on injured reserve and end his season before it ever really began.
"I’m grateful for it, for not being on the IR and giving me that opportunity," said Taylor, who was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report. "My window of opportunity isn’t getting bigger at this point in my career. It’s shrinking. So for Coach to on a week-to-week basis, possibly being able to use another body but to have enough patience to wait on me, I’m grateful."