FOXBOROUGH - Donte' Stallworth isn't taking any chances. He has a sure-fire way to make sure the Patriots win Sunday's AFC Championship game against the San Diego Chargers.
"I am going to probably try to go down to San Diego and try to kidnap LaDainian [Tomlinson], and I might have to go get Shaun Phillips and [Shawne] Merriman, too," said Stallworth. "I don't know how I'm going to do it. Anybody want to help me?"
No need to notify NFL Security; Stallworth was simply being facetious.
But if anybody knows about players vanishing, it would be Stallworth. The free-spirited sixth-year wide receiver found himself losing playing time to Jabar Gaffney down the stretch of the regular season. In the Patriots' final four games, Stallworth caught a total of six balls for 66 yards.
He came out of wide receiver witness protection last Saturday in New England's 31-20 playoff victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, hauling in three catches for 68 yards, including a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter that set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Those were the big plays the Patriots were looking for when they signed Stallworth in the offseason, but while fellow new additions Randy Moss and Wes Welker have bonded with Tom Brady, grabbing headlines and receiving records, Stallworth has been a role player.
To his credit, Stallworth didn't complain about his playing time when asked before the Jaguars game, and yesterday the former Philadelphia Eagle and New Orleans Saint repeated that he was content with a supporting role, using levity when asked about his lack of catches.
"I went to Tom's house about 3 o'clock in the morning, went to his window and woke him up and was like, 'Hey, let me get some more balls,' " joked Stallworth. "No, hey, I understood the situation. I knew that before the season started.
"I remember having a conversation with Wes before the season even started telling him he was going to be the leading receiver on the team. This was right after minicamp, when we all took a receivers trip to New York.
"I knew my role. I knew what it was going to be. I couldn't be happier. I don't want to talk about any other teams, but my former two teams aren't playing right now and I'm playing still, so that's the most important thing."
Playing this deep into the playoffs is the reason Stallworth, who never had played in the postseason until last season, signed essentially a one-year deal to play in New England. His contract included only a $1 million signing bonus, and the Patriots have an $8 million option bonus payment due in the offseason that would turn his deal into a six-year, $33 million signing. It seems unlikely they will pick up that bonus, making Stallworth a free agent.
The perception may be that Stallworth underperformed, but his numbers are not that far off from last season, when he totaled 38 receptions for 725 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games for the Eagles, after the Saints, who drafted Stallworth with the 13th overall pick in 2002, traded him to Philly for linebacker Mark Simoneau and a conditional fourth-round pick on Aug. 28, 2006.
This year, playing in all 16 games, the 6-foot, 200-pound Stallworth had 46 receptions for 697 yards and three touchdowns for the Patriots. The speedster's 15.2-yard-per-catch average tied Moss for the best on the team.
Stallworth, who averaged 19.1 yards per catch last season for the Eagles, showcased his big-play ability against Jacksonville when he corralled a pass from Brady down the sideline and turned it into the 53-yard gain before getting caught from behind by Rashean Mathis. Stallworth, who hasn't scored a touchdown since the team's Oct. 21 win over the Dolphins, banged the turf with both hands after being tripped up.
He saw a certain 6.
The Patriots watched film of the play yesterday.
"I tried to get out of there while we were watching that as a whole offense, and the receivers wouldn't let me leave," said Stallworth. "They kind of grabbed me and made me stay.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it was. I didn't realize I was looking at the Jumbotron the whole way. I should have just peeked up there and ran, but the guy made a good play. We got some points out of it, not 7 like we should of."
Touchdown or no touchdown, the play was a reminder of Stallworth's value.
"It's always good to contribute," he said. "You're contributing no matter what you're doing. If you're out there blocking or whatever. But it's always good to get your hands on the ball as well, so it was good from that aspect.
"I think it's really just a matter of staying focused and knowing that Tommy is going to find you whenever, and you never know when that is, so you got to just stay ready."
As for the kidnapping "threat," Stallworth was just having some fun with his friends on the Chargers. Stallworth has traded text messages with a few of them.
"We're friends, so regardless," he said. "It's not really trash-talking. It's wishing each other good luck, but not really, that kind of deal.
"I won't really go out of my way to text the guys, but I congratulated them after the Colts game. But it's pretty busy preparing for these guys."
That's the paradox of Donte' Stallworth. He's all business and playful at the same time.
The prototypical Patriot Stallworth may not be, but he's still a good fit.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com