FOXBOROUGH -- Troy Brown, like the team he plays for, is about efficiency and patience. Yesterday you couldn't have been more efficient than the Patriot receiver was against the Miami Dolphins. As for patience, Job has nothing on Brown, either this season or throughout a long and distinguished career that added a few more lines at the expense of the Dolphins yesterday afternoon.
Five catches. Five first downs.
Three third-down conversions.
Other than that who would have noticed the 35-year-old jack-of-all trades and master of most of them?
A week ago, against the Cincinnati Bengals, few people noticed Brown, who had no catches but two very crushing blocks in the running game as well as a cameo appearance on defense when the secondary was stretched to its breaking point because of injuries. It is very likely no other player who ended up as his team's all-time leading receiver, as Brown will become after five more catches, ever has done so many things with so unselfish an attitude. But occasionally -- and yesterday was one of those occasions -- he is given the chance to remind people what his real calling is.
For all his versatility, Brown is as reliable a third-down receiver as the Patriots ever have had and the league ever has seen. When it is third and 7, as it was in the second quarter, he got 8. Not 6. Eight. Eight on a route he had to adjust twice to find enough room to get the yardage his team wanted and the open space Tom Brady needed.
That he got both was no surprise. That he continues to do it in his 14th season is testament not only to his talent but to a mind-set that long ago accepted who and what he is and what he must do to maximize himself and what he brings to his team.
``I know what my strong points are," Brown said in a quiet back portion of the locker room following New England's tightly-contested 20-10 victory over the Dolphins. ``Right now it's wisdom, some quickness and making the tough catch. You've got to be a wise man. Take what your body gives you and maintain what you have."
What Brown has is intelligence, calmness under duress, sure hands, and a cunning ability to find the small openings in a defense combined with what the great basketball player Bill Bradley would call a sense of where you are. From the time he was an eighth-round draft pick in 1993, Brown always has understood where he stood. That applies to where he stands on the depth chart as well as on the field in third-down situations. Yesterday he re-established that three times but most especially on an 8-yard catch on third and 7 that kept alive New England's second scoring drive.
When Brown first broke into his pattern he was tightly covered and when he went to elude his defender he realized he couldn't take his route any deeper in the direction he was headed because Doug Gabriel was already there. So he altered his route, aware of what he could not do and what he had to do.
``That play I kind of improvised," Brown said. ``Their guy [cornerback Travis Daniels] closed on me so quick I tried to go up the field but Doug was there so I broke it back inside. Tom knew I wasn't going to run out of bounds on him and made the adjustment with me. In those kind of situations you need 8 you gotta get 8 or 9. It doesn't do any good to get 6. You can't just sit there and wait for the ball. You've got to realize the situation and do something about it."
Brown did on that play and in that first half, playing a key role in keeping one scoring drive alive before scoring himself on another when he hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass two plays after a turnover. Once again he made the play but he also understood the situation.
``We play classic, old-school football," Brown said. ``A lot of people don't like to watch us. They don't think we're very good. But this is the way the game evolved from Don Hutson. Grind it out. Remain calm. We got a generation today that believes if you're not exciting you're no good. They love the 70-yard strike, but what you've really got to do to win is score on short drives. You have to score points on them."
He did on that play and New England did all day, converting three Miami turnovers into 17 points. Brown was a large part of that. At least this week he was. This week when he was called upon he did what he does better than any receiver on this team. He made the money catches.
``He's amazing," coach Bill Belichick said. ``He kind of splits up the week in practice and meeting time. He does the offensive stuff and then comes over and does the defensive stuff for a day. Then he kind of splits time at the end of the week, so he's ready to go on everything. That's the kind of guy he is -- it doesn't matter what it is: offense, defense, special teams. I'm always happy to see him have success because I think if anybody deserves it in this league, he does, as hard as he works, as competitive as he is, as tough as he is. He just always does things right. It's good to see things working out for a guy like that. He's a great team player."
Brown is a player who symbolizes the team he plays for. He does the little things that produce big success. So does his team. He almost unfailingly makes the smart play. So does his team. He remains calm when many around him are wide-eyed. So does his team. But perhaps most of all he refuses to get frustrated with the vagaries of NFL life or be derailed by some of its odd logic or unfathomable decisions. Brown worries only about what he can control -- himself.
``I try to compete for a starting job, but when I get my role I play it," Brown said. ``I'm happy. I don't fuss with Bill about playing time. I don't play 60 [offensive] snaps a game like I used to but the coaching staff does a good job protecting me. You have to accept your age. At times there will be guys pushing you out the door. Then you've got to put your best foot forward and if you get beat out by a better player so be it.
``My ego was checked a long time ago. As a kid playing Little League. They made me race a guy to see who'd play fullback and who'd be the halfback. I beat the guy and they still put me at fullback. I told myself then just work hard."
Brown always has done that, but now he acknowledges he tempers his work at times to preserve himself. He takes three massages a week to keep limber and he keeps his mind focused on what counts rather than on what used to be or what might be if he was elsewhere.
``Most of it now for me is completely mental," Brown said. ``I've got to block out the pains. Today I felt energetic. I got my legs back under me a little bit and I got some opportunities. The sun was shining and I was feeling good.
``I don't have that ego problem some guys have. I didn't get any balls last week but I had a couple blocks I was happy with. This week it was different. I got some balls my way."
When they came, Troy Brown maximized their arrival. When they don't, he finds other ways to help the cause. But through it all one thing remains constant. Him.
``He is so dependable out there," Brady said of Brown. ``I always know where he's going to be. Part of it is I think he's a big clutch player. He's played in a lot of big games for us. You try to get the ball to guys like that."
If you do, you know what you'll get. First down, Patriots.