Needed at safety
Time well spent
Practice squad led Brown to 4-year deal
FOXBOROUGH — Sergio Brown settled into his seat on the Patriots’ charter flight home after last Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Chargers in San Diego. A warm feeling enveloped him as the rookie safety began to decompress from his whirlwind weekend. It was a feeling of satisfaction from a job well done.
“Got on the plane and I was all smiles on the way home,’’ Brown said yesterday in front of his locker at Gillette Stadium. “Had so many voice mails, my phone went dead.’’
Brown paused and shook his head as he recounted his rise from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to maker of a key fourth-quarter tackle on Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
All this, in one amazing weekend.
It began when Brown was summoned after last Friday’s practice and informed he was being added to the roster. An undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame who had been released by the Patriots Sept. 4, then signed two days later to the practice squad, Brown was stunned when he learned his promotion would be cemented with a four-year, $1.79 million contract.
“First thing I did was call my mother,’’ Brown said.
Of course, Myrtle Brown reacted like any proud mother would, especially when she learned of the salary her 22-year-old son, the youngest of her three boys, would be making.
“She was screaming on the phone and everything, so it was real,’’ Brown said with a laugh.
With a ticket to ride on the charter to San Diego, Brown quickly packed for the trip, unaware of how much playing time, if any, he would get against the Chargers.
All Brown knew was that, with safety Jarrad Page inactive because of a calf injury, he needed to be ready. For anything. And everything.
Litt le did Brown know, however, that he’d be thrown into the breach when second-year safety Patrick Chung injured his knee in the second quarter. It forced the Patriots to rely upon Brown to help repel the Chargers’ fourth-quarter rally. And Brown delivered when it mattered most, making his fifth and final tackle of the game (all unassisted) on Gates on a third-and-10 play.
“We had to be aware of the down and distance,’’ Brown recalled of the play, for which he was awarded a game ball. “Once he came out of the backfield, I peeked at the quarterback [Philip Rivers] for a second. I saw him look over to Gates and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get over there and make a stop.’ ’’
After Gates made an 8-yard reception, Brown quickly pulled him down from behind 2 yards shy of a critical first down.
“I thought that Sergio had a lot of good plays in the game,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, also crediting Brown for his special teams contributions. “I think he would have played on defense anyway, but regardless of that, he certainly got more of an opportunity when Patrick went out.’’
It was an opportunity Brown had worked hard for, but when he was initially released he admitted to giving in to negativity.
“I was disappointed, angry, mad, every type of emotion you could have,’’ Brown said. “At the end of the day, when you sit back and look at everything, you have to take a positive note and make the best out of every situation.’’
So when Brown was signed to the practice squad two days later, he took it as a second chance at an NFL career. But life as a practice-squad player is often filled with days of hard work and frustration at not knowing if it will result in playing time.
“I think that’s a great example for all our players to be just ready to go,’’ Belichick said. “You never know when you’re going to get that opportunity. Some players aren’t active and guys are on the practice squad. Or some guys that are active don’t necessarily get to play that week, depending on their particular role. But that can change in one play, and Sergio’s a good example of a player that worked hard, that was prepared, and that when he got an opportunity, really took advantage of it and performed well.’’
Asked about the difference between the practice squad and the 53-man roster, Brown said, “Really, it’s getting used to a different level of play, because the preseason and the regular season is nothing alike. Everybody stepped up their game more, and those first couple of weeks I was ready to sit back and learn, read all my keys, get more familiar with the defense, get more familiar with the tendencies and all the little things, and really sit back and get ready and wait for my time.’’
When it came, Brown seized upon it, making his coaches proud of the fact they invested not only the capital but the confidence in him to do the job.
“I would say the thing with Sergio is that he worked hard through the training camp and he had a lot of hands on balls and stuff,’’ said defensive backs coach Josh Boyer. “He’s worked hard out there in practice and it just showed up and he stepped up, like many people have here in New England.’’
Now there is no time to wait. With Page listed as out and Chung questionable, Brown likely will find himself thrust into the mix again when the Patriots host the Vikings tomorrow afternoon. It will mark the return of Randy Moss, who was traded by the Patriots to Minnesota Oct. 6.
Brown knows he must prepare himself for another whirlwind weekend.
“You’re on ready alert, no matter what happens,’’ Brown said. “So you always have to be ready.’’
Of that, Sergio Brown has served as a shining example, especially to those teammates on the practice squad, that practice does makes perfect.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.