Little things add up in favor of Patten
FOXBOROUGH -- He's not quite Troy Brown, but who is? Brown is an intangible guy; he does the little things. If you look at David Patten's resume, you'd have to agree the journeyman receiver does some unusual things as well.
How about catching, throwing, and running for a touchdown in an Oct. 21, 2001 game against Indianapolis during the Patriots' Super Bowl season? How about lying unconscious on the sideline -- part of his body inbounds and part out of bounds -- in a game at Buffalo that same season, yet retaining possession of the ball via an official's ruling, helping the Patriots beat the Bills?
"Troy will give you 6-8 catches a game, and David, he might give you 2-3, but you know those are going to be important ones," said cornerback Ty Law.
"The bottom line is, I've got to continue to focus on the small things," said Patten. "The big things will take care of themselves. I expect to be a great receiver when I go out there."
Even though Patten caught a career-high 61 passes last season, some felt his roster spot might be in jeopardy when camp opened this year. The reasoning was that the Patriots would keep five receivers. Rookie Bethel Johnson had shown amazing speed. Deion Branch was arguably Patten's biggest threat. David Givens had made huge leaps and was the team's tallest receiver at 6 feet. And free agent pickup Dedric Ward looked good in drills and returned a punt 46 yards in the first exhibition game.
Whether that perception bothered Patten or whether someone said something to him about the competition, we may never know. What is known is that all of a sudden Tom Brady began throwing him the ball, even featuring Patten in the last two games, against Washington and Philadelphia. Patten was put in position to make plays, and he did.
"I know who is the head of my life," Patten said. "I know what God has for me is for me. If it's supposed to be a starter, I'm going to be a starter. If it's for me to be a backup player, that's what I'm going to be.
"I don't get concerned with perceptions; that's your job, to analyze and see who fits where. The only thing I can control is when they call 86's number. Go out there and make the catch and make the play."
Against the Redskins, he was on the receiving end of an 85-yard pass play, torching the coverage down the sideline. Against the Eagles, he caught a nice fade from Brady for a 21-yard touchdown and made a nice move on a defender for a 12-yard touchdown in the same game.
In the best of worlds for the Patriots, Branch and Johnson would have been so outstanding that they'd be challenging to unseat Patten. But with one exhibition game to go, that appears unlikely.
Patten, who turned 29 last week, says he has to continue doing the little things to keep a competitive advantage. Since signing as a free agent here two years ago, Patten feels he's gotten better at recognizing defenses.
"Recognizing coverages from when you line up, being able to tell where a defense is disguising or whether they're really in that defense, it gets clearer every year," he said, "and the more years you play as a receiver, you recognize more. So it makes you a better player."
Also helping is his familiarity with Brady. Patten knows where Brady wants him on a given route.
Having a selective memory is another key for Patten. If he drops a pass, there is no residual effect. That goes from play to play, game to game, season to season.
"I think it's a matter of proving yourself from year to year," he said. "It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. They don't care about two years ago when you were the Super Bowl champion. Everybody remembers last year when you didn't make the playoffs. It's the same way individually. They don't care if you had 80 receptions last year, it's about what can you do for me this year."
Patten has done a lot lately. He has put to rest stories of his demise. Though he understands there are younger players around him, high draft picks who have been paid significant money, he says he can patiently wait for his opportunities.
"It's not hard because it comes down to attitude," he said. "You just know, `I've got to always be ready because my time's coming.'
"It may come once a game, it may come twice, it may come 10 times. You just can't control that. And when you have a team that has this many viable options, it's going to make you a better team. As we all learned two years ago, it's about the team."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.