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I have a theory. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe it’s silly, but I’ve had it since, oh, Tom Brady stared hate-daggers through receiver Joey Galloway on the sideline during a game early in the 2009 season.
Galloway, you may recall, was an accomplished and utterly bewildered veteran receiver whose internal GPS never quite took him to the spot on the field that Brady expected him to be.
During a Week 3 win over the Falcons that season, in full view of the Fox television cameras, Brady lost patience and then his temper with the then-37-year-old receiver, screaming at him after a pass ricocheted off Galloway’s uncooperative hands in the red zone.
How angry was Brady? His face became a red zone. Before staring a hole through the back of Galloway’s head on the sideline, I’m pretty sure he improvised many several-syllable swear words never heard before or since that day. It was an impressive display of quarterback fury.
During Brady’s two-decade Patriots heyday, there were few more effective ways to assure that you’d be a Patriots short-timer than to have repeated miscommunication issues with the perfectionist quarterback.
Galloway was cut before the Patriots traveled to London to play the Bucs in Week 7, but for all intents and purposes, he was done when he made his Week 3 miscue.
So about that theory: I think many of us – not all, but many, and perhaps a majority — tend to dwell on the receivers who didn’t connect with Brady rather than those who did, because it was so compelling that you couldn’t look away when it would go haywire.
Galloway embodies that, but there have been others, from accomplished veterans like Chad Ochocinco to a team picture’s worth of young receivers (Chad Jackson, Taylor Price, Aaron Dobson, Brandon Tate N’Keal Harry …). They could form a Tom Brady Lit Me Up support group. They probably should.
Obviously, I’m guilty of dwelling on the ones that haven’t worked out too. Here I am, on the first play from scrimmage in this story, talking about all of them for far too long.
It’s easy to forget that there were several receivers during Brady’s 20 seasons here who thrived in their working relationship. Some may even owe their careers to him. All are worth celebrating.
As Brady prepares to return to Gillette Stadium as a visitor for the first time this Sunday, it feels like a fitting time to acknowledge some of the receivers who thrived with him when they all played for the home team.
Troy Brown was the first to truly build a bond with Brady. He was already in his eighth NFL season in 2001, and he was a fan-favorite for his fearless special teams play and The Matrix-like receptions. With Terry Glenn injured, pouting, and eventually suspended, Brown emerged, improbably, as the No. 1 receiver, catching 101 passes for 1,199 yards and 5 touchdowns. The first of the great Patriots slot receivers, Brown was at his best in the biggest moments, including making a crucial 23-yard catch on the winning drive of the Super Bowl. To me, he may be the quintessential Patriot.
He wasn’t the only receiver to connect with Brady that season. Perennially unheralded David Patten delivered the best season of his career to that point, with 749 receiving yards and the lone offensive touchdown in the Super Bowl. Patten, who passed away earlier this month in a motorcycle accident, had two seasons of over 800 receiving yards with the Patriots. He was the kind of dependable but unflashy player who is overlooked until he’s no longer with the team, and then you realize just how important he was.
The Patriots added two Brady favorites in the ’02 draft, taking Deion Branch in the second round and David Givens in the seventh. Branch never had a 1,000-yard season for the Patriots, but the Super Bowl XXXIX Most Valuable Player was so prominent in their success that it seemed like he had about five of them. The tough, physical Givens owns the distinction of scoring a touchdown in seven straight playoff games.
When Givens left as a free agent and Branch was traded in a contract dispute after the ’05 season, the Patriots struggled to find suitable replacements. (Doug Gabriel, anyone?) Reche Caldwell was reasonably productive in ’06, but his hands tended to turn against him in the biggest moments.
But one player who did connect with Brady with impressive aptitude was Jabar Gaffney, a veteran free agent who joined the team midway through the ’06 season. Gaffney had just 11 catches during the regular season, but won Brady’s trust (perhaps for the lack of more reliable options) in the playoffs, totaling 21 catches for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns in three games.
Bill Belichick stopped messing around in ’07, bringing in Randy Moss, probably the most talented receiver in NFL history and one who was on Brady’s mental wavelength, and slot receiver Wes Welker, who would become the leading receiver in Patriots history.
Julian Edelman, feted this past Sunday, is a classic Patriots success story and perhaps Brady’s most trusted receiver of all. The former college quarterback, picked in the seventh round in ’09, had 37 catches as a rookie, but it took him time to find his niche as a receiver, catching a total of 32 passes from 2010-12 before busting out with a 105-catch season in ’13. After Brady, Edelman is more responsible than any other player for the second phase of the Patriots’ dynasty.
Others? Danny Amendola, Welker’s de facto replacement, was a postseason stalwart. Brandon LaFell was a quiet hero in the 2014 season. Chris Hogan led the NFL in yards per catch in 2016. Had Brady remained with the Patriots, I bet he eventually would have come to appreciate Jakobi Meyers.
The aforementioned members of Brady’s circle of trust had a variety of skills, and no two were quite the same. But they did have a couple of important attributes in common. They were football-smart, and they desired, almost desperately in some cases, to win the quarterback’s faith. It wasn’t always easily achieved. But when it was, a place in Patriots lore was all but assured.
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