FOXBOROUGH -- Patrick Pass often talks about knowing his role. He talks about doing whatever he is asked and accepting his opportunities.
You name a cliche that is used to describe a team player and Pass has said it this season.
The good thing for the Patriots is that Pass isn't just dropping cliches. He is the team player who knows his role, does whatever is asked, and accepts his limited opportunities.
You name a cliche that is used to describe a team player, and Pass's teammates have said it about him.
''Knowing your role is basically putting the team first," Pass said. ''I've done everything I could do. I've won [individual] stuff in high school, and I've been the man. Winning with the team is the most important thing."
Pass, who holds the DeKalb County (Ga.) career rushing mark with 5,046 yards at Tucker High School, isn't likely to set any Patriots records. For the most part, his contributions over the years have been invisible to the casual fan.
Last Sunday against Atlanta, Pass scored the first rushing touchdown of his career. That saved ball, along with the one from a touchdown reception in 2001, will make nice gifts for his sons, 2-year-old Patrick Jr. and Ashton, who will be a year old next month.
There really aren't any keepsakes from his favorite plays: clearing blocks.
''I definitely would rather throw the key block than run the ball myself," Pass said.
That doesn't mean he is afraid of having his number called. Despite having only 76 carries in six seasons (running mate Corey Dillon already has 96 carries this season), Pass feels he can gain yards if needed. With Kevin Faulk out with a broken left foot, Pass has gotten more opportunities early in the season, and he has proved he can do the job.
Pass has 10 receptions for 75 yards, which gives him more catches than each of New England's three tight ends, as well as receivers Tim Dwight and Bethel Johnson. Last year, Pass had career bests with 28 receptions for 215 yards. He has just eight carries, but is averaging 5.6 yards per rush.
The play after Faulk was injured, Pass had a huge 14-yard catch-and-run to put the Patriots in field goal range for Adam Vinatieri's winning kick against the Steelers Sept. 25. With Dillon out, Pass was on the field for the final drive against Atlanta, contributing a key 15-yard run to make Vinatieri's winning kick a chip shot.
''I think Patrick has certainly become more dependable in the last couple of years and more consistent," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ''I thought he had a really good year this year in terms of the offseason, spring camps, training camp, preseason games. His overall execution and consistency was at a higher level.
''He's kind of made a step each year, but I think these last couple of years it's really come together for him in a number of different areas, not just offensively, but offensively in the running game, and the passing game and also in the kicking game. I think he's really become a guy that we've gained a lot of confidence in."
That confidence is a recent development. Stinging comments from Patriots coaches about Pass in Michael Holley's book ''Patriot Reign" indicated he was not held in a high regard by the staff.
Pass is not interested in reading the book.
''I heard it through the grapevine, word of mouth, but I've never been a type of person to go into he said, she said," Pass said. ''If I don't see it with my own eye, hear it with my own ears, I don't believe it.
''I don't know what was said. That's none of my concern. I show up for work. That's all I do is show up for work and do the best I can."
The Patriots released Pass in the last preseason cut in 2003 and re-signed him three weeks later. In ''Patriot Reign," Belichick suggested cutting Pass to see if that would bring him around. Apparently, it did.
''When he came back, he played the best year of his career," said quarterback Tom Brady. ''I think he's really picked it up from where he left off last year. He's really a playmaker.
''In the preseason we were giving him the ball and he's running 40, 50 yards. In handoffs, he's outrunning defensive backs. He goes and lead-blocks on linebackers. He catches the ball as well as a receiver can. He's smart and tough. He has a great attitude."
Though he says he faced quite an adjustment in understanding the importance of the slew of meetings, it is difficult to imagine Pass being in the coaching doghouse.
''It's not like it was ever said verbally, 'You're in the doghouse,' " Pass said with a smile. ''Being a seventh-round pick, I think you start in the doghouse, at the bottom, or whatever you want to call it.
''I knew what I was. I knew they didn't draft me to become a starter. So I had to prove myself on special teams to make my way and prove myself."
Pass has been a staple of special teams, but despite his versatility, the Patriots had trouble finding a place for him in the offense. Belichick said the problem was as much his and his staff's as it was Pass. He has such good hands that the Patriots tried him at receiver in his first camp. ''That was probably dumb," Belichick admitted, ''but it gives you a good idea of his receiving skills and his ability in the passing game."
Since then, Pass has been called on to fill a variety of roles -- fullback, tailback, third-down back, kick returner -- and he expects to get a taste of all of them at some point this season. And he'll do it quietly, spouting off cliches about being a team player while playing for the NFL veteran minimum salary.
''I had to show enough that they would have confidence in me -- my teammates and the coaches -- so they could say, 'Hey, we can put this guy in,' and not be nervous," Pass said. ''That's being a good professional.
''I love the game. I think I was born to play it. From the very first time I saw football on TV, I wanted to play it. I've been blessed for the last six years to be able to play it. Been blessed to have three [Super Bowl] rings in six years. To get one is a great feat; to have three is unbelievable.
''I can go home and look at them and think, 'Wow, this is what it's all about right here; a total team effort, all 53 guys being in synch.' To be part of the team that's called the champions of the NFL is a great feeling."