FOXBOROUGH - Troy Brown was already pretty pumped yesterday to be playing for the first time this season, and some pregame encouragement from Patriots teammate Randy Moss, a hug from Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, and a standing ovation from the Gillette Stadium crowd only added to the excitement for the popular veteran.
"It was a good feeling to be out there and be part of a win," a beaming Brown said after the Patriots defeated Miami, 28-7, in their regular-season home finale. "I felt a lot of love from the fans, and that meant a lot to me."
Brown returned six punts for 55 yards, including a long return of 28 yards in the fourth quarter. He muffed a punt in the second quarter, but the Dolphins failed to capitalize on the turnover. Brown lined up for a couple of offensive plays but did not catch a pass.
The game was Brown's 192d in a Patriots uniform and possibly his last regular-season performance at Gillette Stadium. He moved past Raymond Clayborn and into fourth place on the team's all-time games played list, trailing only Bruce Armstrong (212), Julius Adams (206), and Mosi Tatupu (194). Brown's 15 seasons with the Patriots tie Adams for second-longest tenure with New England, trailing only Steve Grogan's 16 seasons.
"He's like my idol," said running back Kevin Faulk, Brown's teammate for the last nine years. "I watched him when I was a rookie, and I still do, and I was just happy to have him out there."
Brown found out midweek he'd be playing.
"He told me he couldn't sleep because he was so excited that he saw his name on the call sheet and he was going to be involved," said quarterback Tom Brady , "so he was really excited."
While his teammates were praising him, Brown was talking about Wes Welker, who yesterday tied Brown's franchise record for receptions in a season, catching five passes for 49 yards to raise his totals to 101 catches for 1,053 yards. Brown might as well have been describing himself during his prime.
"He's a smart player," said Brown, who had 101 receptions in 2001. "He's a quick football player, faster than everyone thinks he is. He has good hands. He can do a lot of different things."
In his first season in New England, Welker has done a tremendous job filling the slot receiver role that Brown starred in for so many seasons.
"I think he's done a phenomenal job," Brown said, "and he's a big reason this football team is where it is."
Welker has also filled Brown's former role as the Patriots' top punt returner. Welker has averaged 10.4 yards on 23 returns.
After Brown fumbled Brandon Fields's second-quarter punt to give Miami possession at its own 45, Welker replaced Brown for the Dolphins' next punt.
"I just misplayed it," Brown said, "and it hit off my facemask. It was just a bad play. I kind of dusted myself off and kept pressing and had the home crowd behind me, and that helped a lot."
Brown started the season on the physically unable to perform list following offseason knee surgery. He was removed from the PUP list Nov. 27 and had been inactive the last three games.
"I don't worry about things I can't control," said Brown, when asked if he wondered when he'd get the opportunity to play this year. "I just keep myself ready to go."