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Route led out of town

Receiver Caldwell holds no grudges

Reche Caldwell was driving to the home of Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis, his teammate, but he was talking about his former team, the Patriots. He said he still watches them on "SportsCenter" and keeps track of their stats. As Caldwell was talking, he got a text message - from Patriots receiver Donté Stallworth.

The Patriots have proven they don't need Caldwell, but the wide receiver is still figuring out life without them.

His former team has flourished in his absence, after Caldwell became collateral damage in the offseason overhaul of the New England receiving corps. The Patriots even have pundits talking about a 16-0 season, with Tom Brady on pace to shatter Peyton Manning's season record of 49 TD passes, set in 2004.

The leading receiver last year on a Patriots team that was one minute away from playing in the Super Bowl, Caldwell can't even get on the field for the Redskins. He's been relegated to inactive status for four of five games since signing with Washington Sept. 11. He doesn't expect to be in uniform today when his new team meets his former one at Gillette Stadium.

"If I would sit here and tell you it's not frustrating, I would be lying," said Caldwell, who was released by New England Sept. 3. "It's definitely frustrating when I started [14] games last year there, and I come to another team and don't dress. It is.

"Every competitor wants to go out and compete. I'm used to competing on Sundays and that's been taken away. That's the part that is frustrating for me, not being out there on Sunday being able to play. That's the toughest part for me."

The demise of Caldwell, who led New England in receptions (61), receiving yards (760), and touchdown receptions (4, tied with Troy Brown), illustrates just how far the Patriots' passing attack has come from last season. His absence hasn't even registered a ripple.

Fans have already forgotten about him, enthralled by the exploits of new men Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Stallworth. Moss leads the NFL in receiving yards with 732, just 28 fewer than Caldwell had all of last season, and touchdowns with 10. Welker has replaced Caldwell as a possession receiver and is third in the NFL in catches with 47. Stallworth is averaging 8.6 yards after the catch and has scored in each of the last three games.

Caldwell is willing to say what Brady and Bill Belichick haven't - that better receivers have allowed No. 12 to light up defenses to the tune of 2,125 yards passing, 27 touchdown passes, a 73.8 percent completion rate, and a 137.9 passer rating through seven games.

"I don't take no offense. It's true," said Caldwell. "He has a Hall of Fame receiver in Randy Moss. It's not like people say that and it's not true.

"With Donté and Wes, they got a lot more options. I think we had an OK receiving corps last year. But a lot of the plays were set up to go to me. It wasn't as spread out as it is now. The stats prove all that.

"We pretty much had a new receiver on the other side of the field every week, and now they have a set group of guys at receiver in Donté, Wes, and Moss, and they get it done every Sunday."

Caldwell has only one problem with the way things went down with the Patriots. He wishes the team had released him prior to final roster cuts coming out of training camp. Caldwell was on the roster after final cuts were made Sept. 1 along with Moss, Stallworth, Welker, Kelley Washington, and Jabar Gaffney.

The Patriots released him the day after Moss resumed practicing after missing a month with a balky hamstring. By that time, most teams had set their rosters for the season, leaving him few options.

"With all of those receivers, I think it was predetermined what happened with me," said Caldwell. "You don't bring in four new receivers and expect the other guys to still be around. I think I was the only one there from the beginning from last year because Jabar came in during the season. The writing was on the wall.

"When it came, it wasn't a surprise. I didn't want to get cut, nobody wants to be cut. But I wish they had done it earlier in camp, so I could hook on with another team faster. But like I told them when it was all over, 'I appreciated the opportunity to play with one of the best organizations in the league and with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play.'

"I appreciate the opportunity to this day. I have no bad blood. They do what they do and I do what I do."

Caldwell's last meaningful game as a Patriot was his ignominious performance in Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game. He was excoriated for his drops during the Patriots' 38-34 loss.

Did that performance have anything to do with his departure?

"They got what they wanted in Randy Moss and Wes Welker and all the other guys, and they've shown that was a good decision," said Caldwell. "If it did or it didn't, we'll just move on."

Caldwell said the media and fan criticism, which grew personal at times, didn't bother him.

"It never bothered me one bit," he said. "I was just looking for an opportunity to go back out to play. Look, when something goes bad, [the fans] look for someone to blame. I was blamed for the dropped balls. It's pro sports; when something goes bad, [the fans] always point the finger. I was that guy."

He said he's not expecting any type of reaction from the Gillette crowd if he's active today.

"I'm not a Patriot anymore," he said. "I'm a Redskin. My fans are over there. The Patriots fans, those were my fans last year, but I got new fans."

Things might not be warm and fuzzy with the fans, but current Patriots still keep in touch with Caldwell. He talks regularly with Gaffney, a college teammate at the University of Florida. He got a call from Asante Samuel this past week. Moss sent him a text message.

"Even though I'm not there, I made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun," Caldwell said. "When you go out to battle with teams and certain players, you build a relationship with those guys. Some people think it's just football."

Caldwell continues to sit and wait for his chance to feel that on-field camaraderie with the Redskins, unsure as to why he's not playing. He said the Washington system isn't an issue. It's the same one he played in four years ago with the San Diego Chargers, when current Miami Dolphins coach Cam Cameron was the offensive coordinator.

"I'm just waiting for my opportunity out here," he said.

His next catch this season will be his first one.

But Caldwell said he has nothing to prove to the Patriots.

"This is a business. I played for them for a whole year and they know what I can do," he said. "They see what I can do. I want to go out and play because I love to compete and I love to play football."

Caldwell is trying to turn the page on his Patriots career.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "I'm happy to be a Washington Redskin. I'm happy for those guys. They look like one of the better offenses I've ever seen in the league, but I'm happy to be where I'm at right now."

Maybe Caldwell was trying to convince himself. He has no choice.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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