Now that Deion Branch is officially out of the picture, the question is, who takes his place in the Patriots' passing game?
Based on the production of the three wideouts who were active during Sunday's 19-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, the answer to that question has not suited up in a game for the Patriots yet.
Veteran Troy Brown, free agent pickup Reche Caldwell, and second-year player Bam Childress combined for four catches for 51 yards against Buffalo. Brown, who caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and Caldwell had two receptions apiece; Childress was shut out.
Brown's TD was the only reception by a New England wide receiver in the first half.
``We dressed the players that we thought would give the team the best opportunity to win the game," said coach Bill Belichick. ``That includes a lot of people and a lot of factors. We did what we thought was best for the team. That may or may not be what it is this week against the Jets."
Two possible heirs apparent at wideout would be players with Florida ties: rookie Chad Jackson, who was selected in the second round out of the University of Florida, and University of Central Florida product Doug Gabriel, whom the Patriots picked up from the Oakland Raiders in a Sept. 2 trade. Both sat out Sunday's game with hamstring injuries -- at least that was the explanation given for Gabriel's absence, though it might have had more to do with a lack of command of the playbook.
In three seasons in the NFL, Gabriel has caught 71 passes for 1,122 yards and five touchdowns.
``We evaluate him as he can help our football team," said Belichick. ``That's why we traded for him. Just like every other player that comes over here, they need to learn our system, learn what their assignments are, and get in tune with our plays and our adjustments and timing of the plays and so forth. Time will tell if he can help the football team."
Jackson's problem hasn't been the playbook, it's been staying out of the trainer's room.
``I think Chad is a good learner," said Belichick. ``I think he is a smart kid. I think he understands the passing game and concepts. We saw that in the spring, when we installed most of our passing game in the spring camps. You have to go out on the field and do it, but in terms of learning it, I think he can learn it."
Belichick didn't rule out the possibility that Branch's successor could come from outside the current roster.
``If at any point we had to improve our football team at any position, we would consider it," he said. ``Whether it's signing players or trading them or whatever we can do. Anything we can do to make the football team better, we would consider. That's the way it always is."