FOXBOROUGH — The newest member of the Patriots’ 100-yard club — there are now 35, from Jim Nance and Curtis Martin to Josh Ashton and Michael LeBlanc — might be the most unexpected, considering who Brandon Bolden is, how he got here, and what he had done before his breakout game.
It also could be a sign of things to come.
An undrafted rookie who had 15 rushing yards through his first three games in the NFL, Bolden introduced himself to the Bills, the league, and a number of Patriots fans last Sunday, carrying 16 times for 137 yards and a touchdown in New England’s 52-28 win in Buffalo.
Football world, say hello to Brandon Bolden.
Brandon, anything you’d like to say to the football world?
“This is the NFL,” he said. “You never know what can happen.”
Bolden helped the Patriots make history last Sunday. Along with Stevan Ridley (106), it’s the first time the Patriots had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since 1980. With Ridley, Tom Brady (340), Rob Gronkowski (104), and Wes Welker (129), it’s just the second time in NFL history that a team had two 100-yard rushers, two 100-yard receivers, and a 300-yard passer in the same game. The Packers were the first, in 2008.
The other players, even Ridley, have established themselves with the Patriots. Bolden is trying to do the same.
It looks like he has the speed, strength — did you see the hit he put on the Bills defender on his 7-yard touchdown run? — and the frame (5 feet 11 inches, 220 pounds) to succeed in the NFL. He’s also been giving the right answers to please his coaches, no doubt, who preach looking ahead at what’s to come, not back at what you’ve already done.
“Last week happened, now we’re getting ready for Denver. You know, just forget about it,” Bolden said, mentioning the Broncos, who visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday. “It was a game. Yeah, yay, yippee, everybody was happy. But it’s in the past, and now we’re moving on.”
Sound familiar? Bolden hasn’t wasted much time acclimating himself. He’s certainly made an impression in the short time he’s been here; he signed May 10, and is the only undrafted rookie on the active roster.
“I think Brandon has really done a nice job of keeping his head down, staying focused on learning our system, doing everything that’s asked of him,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “I think that’s ultimately a great sign for a young player. He gets in and any way he can help the team, he’s willing to do it.
“I think Brandon’s attitude has been great. He’s shown the ability to learn different things each week.”
Learning runs in the family. Bolden’s mother, Marva, is a 10th-grade math teacher at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, La., where Bolden attracted attention as a two-way player for the Hornets. He played running back, but was also a linebacker, destined for college stardom, not necessarily because of what he could on the field, but what kind of person he was off it.
“Obviously, he was a heck of a football player, but he was also a guy that took care of business. He was not one that you had to worry about as far as his academics and that kind of stuff,” said Kim Dameron, who recruited Bolden to Mississippi and is now an assistant at Cornell. “His mom taught right there at the school, so every time I would stop by to see Brandon, I would see momma, too. He’s from a very tight-knit family, has amazing support at home, from his mother and father, from his grandparents.’’
Dameron still remembers the first home visit he made with Bolden. Two things stood out: His grandmother’s seafood gumbo and his grandfather’s memorabilia, because football also runs in the family. Bolden’s grandfather, Frank Pitts, played 10 years in the NFL, as a receiver for the Chiefs, Browns, and Raiders. He was with Kansas City for two Super Bowls, losing Super Bowl I and winning Super Bowl IV. Those are two games Bolden, quite proudly, has become familiar with. Very familiar.
“I remember being 6 years old, him popping in a highlight film of Super Bowl I and IV. I’ve seen that tape, I’m 22 now, I’ve seen that tape at least 500 times,” Bolden said. “He’s great, been pretty much my role model since forever. He’ll call me at the end of the game and tell me everything I did wrong. He’s my toughest critic, and I think that rubbed off on me.”
Bolden has followed in the footsteps, literally, of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who also starred at Ole Miss before landing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent. Green-Ellis signed with the Bengals in the offseason, part of the reason playing time has been available.
Being versatile — Bolden returned punts and kicks in the preseason and caught a pass for 11 yards against the Bills, his first NFL reception — also helped his cause.
“I think Brandon ran well for us in preseason when he had an opportunity,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He did well in the kicking game and he did well offensively, both running the ball and catching it. That’s kind of how he made the team.”
It’s one thing to be able to do those things. But to find the right team, especially when everybody passes on you in the draft? “He’s a diamond in the rough, and if there’s one thing Bill Belichick is good at, it’s finding those guys,” Dameron said.
Bolden might profess to turning the page to the Broncos, but he won’t forget his first 100-yard game in the NFL. Those milestones have been burned in his memory.
First 100-yard game in high school?
“Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech my freshman year.”
Now in the NFL?