FOXBOROUGH - The list of receivers at Tom Brady's disposal is like a never-ending buffet. But that doesn't mean one more guy can't be added to the plate.
Linebacker Mike Vrabel, in his seventh season in New England, has been known to pop up as an eligible receiver at times. In yesterday's 52-7 win over Washington, he was at it again, catching his second touchdown pass of the season.
Brady completed 29 of 38 passes for 306 yards to eight receivers. Vrabel's touchdown accounted for 2 of those yards, and when the 6-foot-4-inch, 261-pounder steps in on offense he is efficient. His 10 receptions all have been for touchdowns.
Yesterday Vrabel, who also recorded three sacks, entered in the second quarter as an eligible receiver with the Patriots on the Redskins' 2-yard line. Vrabel was left open near the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
"I think it was a good sell by the offensive line," Brady said. "He just slipped out there and another touchdown catch for him."
Not only does the offensive line help the play, but Brady said Vrabel, who didn't speak to the media immediately after the game, also has ways of setting himself up.
"He's very good at evading defenders and getting off the line of scrimmage," the quarterback said. "He's very quick and he uses his hands well."
Fullback Heath Evans said when Vrabel scores they all appreciate the talk that follows.
"We never hear the end of it," Evans said. "The joking goes on and on between the guys who can potentially catch the ball and Vrabel. We have our fun. He's definitely a guy you love to see have success."
Vrabel's first career touchdown was recorded in 2002 in a 21-14 loss at San Diego. His 1-yard catch from Brady made Vrabel the first Patriots defender to catch a touchdown pass since linebacker John Tanner did it in 1974.
Ever since, Vrabel has been the occasional end zone option.
In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Vrabel scored a 1-yard touchdown that helped the Patriots pull out a 32-29 victory over Carolina in the second of the team's three Super Bowl titles. In Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles, Vrabel caught a 2-yard TD pass in the third quarter in New England's 24-21 win.
The opportunities for a linebacker to not only catch a touchdown pass but also collect sacks is so unique that Dec. 26, 2005, Vrabel became the first player to have two touchdowns and a sack in the same game since sacks were officially recorded in 1982.
"He has great hands," receiver Donte' Stallworth said. "He's a big guy and a big target. He's a very valuable asset for us on defense and comes in and scores touchdowns on offense."
Vrabel entered for a second time on offense against the Redskins, but he was covered. Brady ran in on the next play for the 2-yard touchdown that gave the Patriots a 31-0 lead.
Defensively, Vrabel was part of a group that haunted Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. All three times Vrabel sacked Campbell he forced a fumble.
The third forced fumble turned into the first NFL touchdown of linebacker Rosevelt Colvin's career as he returned it 11 yards in the third quarter to give New England a 38-0 lead.
Vrabel even recovered an onside kick late in the game.
Getting the chance to celebrate a touchdown was one that Colvin said he had been waiting for. "Last time I recovered a fumble like that I broke my hip, so I was just happy to come out of it uninjured," he said.
The Patriots' defense may be getting in on the scoring but it is not allowing teams to keep pace. Five Patriots opponents have been held to 14 or fewer points this season.
The defense appreciates large leads, but it also can add to the score if needed, Colvin said. "Opportunities are presented to players and they're taking advantage of it," he said. "It's creating momentum and it's creating points."
Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org