FOXBOROUGH -- After catching five passes for a season-high 83 yards in a blowout victory over the Vikings Oct. 30, it appeared Doug Gabriel was emerging as the dangerous wide receiving threat the Patriots needed.
Gabriel's chemistry with Tom Brady seemed to be improving, and the quarterback lamented after the game that he didn't get the receiver a touchdown.
Yet that performance turned out to be Gabriel's peak as a Patriot. After an unexpected turn of events that included a significant decrease in playing time, Gabriel was released yesterday.
The 26-year-old Gabriel played in 12 games, starting five, and caught 25 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. His 13.8-yard average was tops among Patriots pass-catchers with more than 10 receptions.
But things apparently began to spiral in the wrong direction during a 17-14 loss to the Jets Nov. 12, when Gabriel lost a second-quarter fumble and didn't get on the field the rest of the game. His playing time was limited thereafter, as reflected in his statistics: He had just one catch in the four games he played after the fumble. In the last two games, Gabriel was on the field for only 25 plays, mostly in multiple-receiver sets.
Gabriel's agent, Bus Cook, said last week that he felt Gabriel's lack of playing time was simply due to others on the roster earning their time. Cook was unavailable for comment last night.
Gabriel's departure leaves the Patriots with five receivers on the active roster: starters Reche Caldwell and Troy Brown, and backups Jabar Gaffney, rookie Chad Jackson, and first-year player Kelvin Kight, who was promoted from the practice squad Saturday. Jackson has missed the last two games with a groin injury.
Searching for an upgrade at wide receiver at the end of training camp, the Patriots traded a fifth-round draft choice to the Raiders for Gabriel, who at 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds immediately became the team's rangiest target. He was a fifth-round draft choice of the Raiders in 2003 and spent his first three seasons with Oakland, playing in 42 games with seven starts.
Approached a few weeks ago in the locker room and asked to discuss his situation, Gabriel declined, saying he would speak only about positive things.
Coach Bill Belichick commented on Gabriel last week, saying he had "made a lot of progress through the course of the year."
Belichick also noted that all of the receivers besides Brown had to pick up the team's system and that "Doug has made good, steady progress in that area."