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Vikings’ Zimmer: Patriots using Cordarrelle Patterson ‘way better than we did’

New England Patriots wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (84) runs the ball against New York Jets linebacker Darron Lee (58) during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Nov. 25, 2018. Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has found a way to unlock the potential of enigmatic Cordarrelle Patterson.

You could see it coming in mid-March, when Belichick flipped a fifth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Patterson. Widely regarded the best NFL coach of all time after winning five Super Bowls in New England, Belichick clearly saw something in Patterson, a first-round draft pick who had made a name as a kick returner and nothing else.

The Vikings struggled to get Patterson, a receiver from Tennessee, involved in their offense in parts of four seasons after taking him with first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. But the Patriots have found a way to tailor parts of their offense to his strengths.

“Quite honestly, they’re using him way better than we did,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s a great athlete and a very, very strong runner. I think they use him in a number of different ways. I mean, it’s good to see for him. I wish we would have used him a little bit better.”

It’s not uncommon to see Patterson, 27, take snaps out of the backfield, line up in the slot and split out wide, sometimes in the same possession.

“He has the ability to do all of those things: to run, to catch, to have the vision and athleticism to run the ball in space, and have the size and power to be able to get a tough yard and run through tackles when he needs to do that,” Belichick said this week.

“He has good hands. He’s excellent with the ball in his hands. He really knows how to set up blocks and how to break tackles and how to gain yards. He’s extremely talented at doing that.”

With five games left in the regular season, Patterson already has set a career-high with 37 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, as he’s being used as an actual downhill runner between the tackles rather than simply as a gadget on the outside. He also has caught 13 passes for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“We didn’t get him the ball enough maybe in a lot of those ways that they’re using him,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, since I’ve been watching him on tape, I’m going to put that in the back of my mind if we ever get a guy like this again, or a guy like that again, that we can use him in much better ways.”

The Vikings’ failure to get Patterson going has always been a little confusing. As their kick returner, he scored five touchdowns and averaged 30.4 yards a return in four seasons, but they didn’t get him the ball much as a receiver or runner.

As a receiver, he averaged 20.6 yards a game and scored seven touchdowns in four seasons. He finished his Vikings tenure with 31 rushes, even though he averaged 10.2 yards a carry.

Zimmer emphasized that the Vikings had Adrian Peterson during Patterson’s four seasons in Minnesota, but in two of those seasons, Peterson played a combined four games because of suspensions and injuries.

“We tinkered around with (Patterson),” Zimmer said. “I still think there we could have used him more in some of those kinds of ways.”

The fact that Patterson has been more utilized in the Patriots’ offense hasn’t taken away from him being a menace on special teams. His 30.9-yard average on kick returns is second in the NFL, and he ran for a 95-yard touchdown in Week 7.

“He’s one of the best kick returners to ever play the game,” Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels said. “He’s electric with the ball in his hands, as we saw when he was here. Now he’s being used in a variety of positions, and when he’s out there, he’s doing a great job. We have our work cut out for us. He’s a special player.”

Clearly, that’s something Belichick realized from the jump, and now he’s reaping the rewards on his investment.

“He’s always ready to go,” Belichick said. “I know we’ve asked him to do a lot of different things and he’s been ready, willing, and able to do all of them.”