FOXBOROUGH -- For Bam Childress, who joyfully jumped off the practice squad for yesterday's game to play offense, defense, and special teams, the obvious comparison was Troy Brown.
The name of the all-purpose Patriot was the one Bill Belichick mentioned when asked about Childress after New England's 28-26 loss to Miami. While the first-year receiver from Ohio State praised Brown's status, recalling how the New England coaches instructed him early in the season to model his game -- on and off the field -- after the example set by the veteran, Childress made one clarification about any similarities.
''I'm not that old," joked the 23-year-old.
He's a mere rookie who's been stuck on the practice squad all season, but for at least one day, Childress served as the equivalent to the 34-year-old Brown. Childress, who was informed Friday that he would be signed for the showdown against the Dolphins, played in his first NFL game and caught three passes for 32 yards. But Childress's offensive production comprised only part of his day, as he played in the secondary and made four tackles, and rounded out his debut with some special teams action.
''That was probably one of the best days of my life, just knowing that I'd be playing with the team," Childress said of the day he was told he'd be in the lineup.
If Friday was one of his best days, yesterday was even better. Childress, who took the spot of the inactive Bethel Johnson, led the Patriots in receptions, including a 21-yard third-down fourth-quarter toss from Matt Cassel that extended New England's final touchdown drive. Childress caught his first career pass, a 7-yard reception to kick off a second-quarter drive that concluded with a 49-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. On the play, he became the 17th Patriot to record a reception this year.
After his second catch, which came in the third quarter, Zach Thomas drilled him with a ferocity befitting the receiver's first name, prompting Childress to joke with the Miami linebacker that he didn't have to hit him that hard.
While Childress went undrafted after a 49-game career at Ohio State, New England management predicted that the 5-foot-10-inch wideout might be able to contribute offensively down the road when they signed him as a free agent on July 24. In his senior season with the Buckeyes, Childress caught 17 balls for 205 yards while starting four games. The year before, Childress had 11 catches for 133 yards.
Not exactly eye-opening numbers, but Childress came into training camp and was impressive early, recording three catches in each of New England's first two exhibition games. But Childress failed to make the team and was placed on the practice squad, where he trained, watched his teammates, and was content to consider the 2005 season a year in which he'd study Brown, Deion Branch, and David Givens and aim for a roster spot in 2006.
''It wasn't like every day I was coming in having the same attitude of, 'Here we go again,' " Childress said. ''I wanted to get better every day."
But Friday his status changed, prompting him to call nearly everybody he knew with the good news. His mother, Willeen, wanted to come to Gillette Stadium yesterday, but she was unable to make it. Had she been in attendance, she would have seen her son line up on defense, a position he hadn't played since his freshman season at Ohio State.
Belichick said Childress's quickness, hands, and instinct made him a candidate for defensive assignments, especially with Asante Samuel and Artrell Hawkins inactive, leaving the Patriots secondary shorthanded once again. Childress practiced on defense earlier in the week, and yesterday he looked to his teammates for assistance.
''Obviously, he wasn't going to know everything out there, so we tried to talk to him and coach him on the fly," said fellow rookie Ellis Hobbs. ''I told him before the game that what got me through my first game was regardless of if you make a mistake, keep your ears open and listen. Then go out and go 100 percent. If you fly around, you make up for a lot of mistakes."
His game wasn't perfect. In the fourth quarter, Childress got beat by Marty Booker for a 15-yard touchdown.
On the game's final play, he didn't get enough separation in the end zone for Cassel to throw the ball his way for what would have been the tying 2-point conversion. And ultimately, his team didn't win.
Childress acknowledged disappointment that he couldn't do enough to help his team record its 11th victory. But the rookie watched 15 games from the press box, and he was just happy that he could spend the 16th on the field.
''Once they told me to be ready, I was just like, 'If you put me in there, I'm going to play [all-out] like it's my last play. If I play one play, I'm going to play it my hardest.' "