The touchdown pass was pretty. The incompletion was even better.
While it’s become cliché to suggest that the Patriots have been searching for a “deep threat” ever since waving the white flag on Randy Moss four years ago, the fact is that no player has really filled the role to any real satisfaction. Hell, New England observers were so hungry for someone to grasp the role that we even endured misdirected and unjustified hype surrounding the likes of wide receiver Taylor Price, who turned out to be as much of a deep threat as much Greg Stiemsma reminded more than one guy of Bill Russell.
So here comes Aaron Dobson as the latest to inherit the throne, and you know, the Patriots may finally have their guy.
Dobson was among the handful of bright spots Thursday night in New England’s 16-13 loss to the New York Giants, in what was mercifully the final preseason tuneup for both teams. The 6-foot-3 Dobson was targeted nine times by Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, coming up with three catches for 57 yards and a nifty touchdown pass down the left sideline that only exacerbated that his sort of presence – along that with new addition Tim Wright at tight end – is what the Patriots’ offense needs to transform itself from good enough to win the AFC East to dynamic enough to lay everybody else in its wake on the way to a second chance in Glendale, Ariz.
Clearly there’s a long road before we can even consider Dobson being that integral to the Patriots’ offensive schemes. While it didn’t seem to bother him in his preseason debut, the broken left foot that prematurely ended his rookie season is something the team will clearly monitor closely as the days tick away until next Sunday’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins, and his presence isn’t anything they’re going to rush back and pound into every play on the gridiron either.
Dobson and Garoppolo were also going up against New York Giants also-rans in the team’s fifth exhibition outing. The tandem’s most impressive play together, in fact, might have been from the Giants’ three-yard line, from where the quarterback found a leaping Dobson in the back of the end zone, a catch only inches short of heading to the highlight reel instead of simply ruled out of bounds. By that point in the game, Dobson was being shadowed by New York cornerback Chandler Fenner, a Holy Cross product who probably isn’t exactly on the top of Tom Coughlin’s “keeper” list with cutdown day looming.
Then there’s also the question as to how much trust Tom Brady has in the 23-year-old, almost one year after publically embarrassing the kid in an error-filled game against the New York Jets early last season. For a guy who came into the NFL with a stellar reputation of not dropping passes, the kid dropped four in his first two professional appearances, including three vs. the Jets in Week 2, when he felt Brady’s wrath both on the field and on the sideline. Brady targeted Dobson 10 times in that game, and the receiver caught three, one for a touchdown, in miserable, wet conditions. Brady targeted Dobson 10 more times the next week in a 23-3 win over Tampa Bay. Dobson had seven catches for 52 yards.
But Brady would only look Dobson’s direction that many times only once more all season, a 30-27 win over New Orleans that was highlighted by Brady’s late-drive game-winner to Kembrell Thompkins, a play topped later in the evening only by David Ortiz’s bullpen grand slam against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. In that game, Dobson caught six passes for 63 yards. Beginning in Week 6, Brady would look his way only 35 times the rest of the season, until Dobson went down with his foot.
Some of that was obviously the return of Rob Gronkowski to the team, some was Brady’s emerging dependence on Julian Edelman. Or it may just be that Brady’s preference for having a deep threat is a lie that keeps on hammering its way into the general consciousness.
That’s not to deny that having a guy like Dobson doesn’t make the Patriots a more dangerous offense, because clearly it does. But the Patriots as a team have been just fine without relying on the deep ball at any point. It was magic with Moss in 2007. By the time Brady returned in 2009, his insistence to force the ball to Moss started to become a weekly headache. He threw 28 touchdown passes that season, and began 2010 with eight before Moss was traded after a Week 4 win over the Dolphins. The Patriots quarterback went on to throw 28 more touchdowns over the season’s final 12 games without Moss on the team, which, albeit, really, really could have used him in the playoff loss to the Jets, but que sera.
It’s also how the Patriots look at Dobson. It may take a while to enter into Brady’s exclusive circle of trust, but at the very least it seems like the Patriots have found their guy.
Garoppolo-to-Dobson may become a familiar refrain in Foxborough only a couple more years down the road. For now, he’s still Brady’s toy. And the cliché may finally have legs.
Whether they have a left foot to run on, well, we’ll have to wait and see.