FOXBOROUGH -- Talk about carpe diem. On a team where opportunity is scarcely guaranteed -- and optimum performance when opportunity does come is a prerequisite -- Patriots eight-year veteran wide receiver David Patten is on pace for his most productive season.
With just six games under his belt (including five starts), the 30-year-old has nearly one-third of his career-high 61 receptions, nearly half his career-high 824 yards, and is one shy of his season-high five touchdowns, all set in 2002. He shows no ill effects of a knee injury that cut last season short after six games.
Patten entered the league in 1997 with the New York Giants after a stint with the American Football League's Albany Firebirds. Before that, he worked as an electrician and hauled 75-pound bags in a coffee-bean factory. You need not tell Patten how or when to step up when called.
"I'm still not satisfied. I feel I can do so much and be so much better," said Patten, who has 20 receptions for 357 yards (a career-high 17.9 average) and four touchdowns. He hopes to lead the Patriots' receiving corps against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a key AFC showdown Sunday.
Patten's productivity has been key this season with injuries to wide receivers Deion Branch and Troy Brown.
"I want the ball thrown to me 10-15 times a game. I want the quarterback looking at me every play," he said. "But that's not my call. My call is to go out there, run the route, run the play as they call it. And when the ball comes, I get paid to make that play. Hopefully, I can do that when my number is called."
Last week against the New York Jets, Patten had three receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' 13-7 win. He got open in the back of the end zone and hauled in a 7-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady for the game's final score, with five seconds left in the second quarter.
"Every year, you get better at every position," said Patten. "I just think especially at receiver, because you get used to seeing things, especially when you have an opportunity to be in the same system and you know the system pretty good. You can just go out and play and react to what the defense is giving you. I think it makes you more aware."
Patten's productivity has increased over the last five seasons. During his first three with the Giants, he caught 33 passes for three touchdowns. He had just three starts during that time, all in his first season.
But he began showing signs of being an impact receiver in 2000, when he signed with Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent and posted 38 receptions for 546 yards and a touchdown. He also recorded the first two 100-yard receiving games of his career that season -- 113 against Baltimore and 103 against Philadelphia.
What's more, Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted, Patten was hampered by injury that season as well. "You double that production, and that's not a bad season. A lot of guys would like to have that."
Patten said the first few seasons in the league were merely about getting acclimated.
"The only thing that separates this league from anything else is confidence. Once you get in, that first year is tough," he said. "But every year you feel more and more confident that you belong. And then, hopefully, you will just enhance it from there.
"But I've always been confident of my skills and I've always known what I can do. The only thing I can control when they give me an opportunity, I can go out and do my work on the field."
Belichick said Patten's success lies in his hard work and relentlessness.
"He just keeps going. He won't slow down. He only knows one speed," said the coach. "He only runs routes one speed out there in practice. It doesn't matter whether it is Friday, Saturday walkthrough, whatever he does, he just goes 100 percent."
"He has improved in all aspects of the game, his route running, his hands, his blocking, all those things. That has come through hard work and dedication . . .
"Even last year when he was hurt, I remember seeing him just about every day coming in and he would tell me, `I will be back next year. I am working hard. I am going to be there.' "
Patten has undoubtedly lived up to his claim, and in the process he has silenced detractors.
"There have been people hating on me since I've been in the league," said Patten. "Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I just use it as steppingstones. When they doubt me, that fuels me. I just come out and do what I do and hopefully it's good enough, and if it's not, it's not."