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Caldwell prepared to turn the page

Reche Caldwell doesn't blame you if you don't remember that he was the Patriots' leading receiver last season, catching 61 balls for 760 yards and four touchdowns.

Or if you don't recall that after Troy Brown stripped San Diego safety Marlon McCree to prolong the Patriots' playoff run, it was Caldwell who capped the second chance with the tying touchdown, then set up Stephen Gostkowski's winning field goal with a 49-yard reception.

He knows the plays etched in your memory from his first season as a Patriot are the ones he didn't make. His painful drops in the loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship game turned him from Tom Brady's favorite target to the target of fan frustration.

"What people remember you by is what you do in your last game, and that was the last game that I played," said Caldwell, who is entering his sixth NFL season. "Good or bad, that's what they're going to remember you by. That was a big game. That game could have gotten us to the Super Bowl."

Caldwell, 28, is as eager as anyone for the start of training camp tomorrow. He is ready to prove he's not some sort of gridiron answer to Bill Buckner, and to fight for a job in the Patriots' crowded receiving corps.

By the time Caldwell dropped those passes the Patriots had blown an 18-point lead, and he wasn't on defense when Joseph Addai cruised into the end zone for the winning touchdown. Still, Caldwell cringes, too, when he looks at the game film.

"I could see if they were tough catches, but they were so easy, both of them I was wide open," Caldwell said. "I could see if I had a guy all over me, but when you're wide open and don't make the play, that hurts the most. It hurt the team and what we could have done, and if I make those plays we'd have probably been in the Super Bowl."

It's fair to wonder if Caldwell's performance in the AFC Championship game played a part in the team's decision to load up on wideouts during the offseason, signing Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington, and trading for Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"I don't even worry about that," Caldwell said. "I've just got to go out and play to the best of my ability. There are a lot of good players, Moss, Stallworth, Washington, Welker. It's going to be interesting, everybody works hard and everybody brings something to the game. We're all different receivers. We all have different roles."

But the Patriots don't have room for everybody's role. Most expect Caldwell to go from No. 1 receiver to roster fodder. He is unfazed.

"What I realize from being on this team is that the best players play on Sunday," Caldwell said. "If you go out and show you're the best on the team, you're going to get the opportunity to play. I don't think any position on this team is guaranteed. You have to prove to the coaches and your teammates you're a winner and put your best effort forward to win games."

Caldwell, who was signed to complement Deion Branch and ended up replacing him, did that for most of last season. After a bumpy beginning, Caldwell developed a rapport with Brady, which could give him a leg up on a roster spot.

"I think there is a big comfort level," said Caldwell. "I have a year under my belt. I know what to expect, how to run routes. It helps a lot more having a year under your belt playing and being in this offense."

That experience, and not a few bad plays, is what Caldwell chooses to focus on entering camp.

"I had a few drops, that's part of playing in this league," said Caldwell. "Things like that happen. I try not to look back and just look forward to the upcoming season."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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