No drop in Tate’s effort

Patriots receiver works to improve

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 4, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Brandon Tate needed a minute to be mad at himself. Moments after the Patriots receiver dropped a pass from Tom Brady against the Lions on Thanksgiving, Tate could be seen on the sideline, visibly upset.

The pass couldn’t have been more perfect. It was one of two times Brady targeted Tate in the 45-24 victory. He didn’t catch either pass.

“I was just mad at myself, but I got over that and I told them I was going to hit practice this week and just go hard, and that’s what I’ve been doing,’’ Tate said yesterday.

When the Patriots traded Randy Moss to the Vikings in October, eyes turned toward Tate as the Patriots’ next best downfield threat. But Tate hasn’t been any more involved in the offense. His biggest game since Moss was traded came Oct. 31 against the Vikings, when he caught three passes for a season-high 101 yards and one touchdown.

Since then, Tate has three catches for 62 yards and no touchdowns in four games. And he didn’t have a catch in the last two games, against the Lions and Colts.

“I’m still trying to get better every day and hit practice every week and correct what I’m doing wrong,’’ Tate said.

Tate is in his second NFL season, but in many ways he feels like a rookie. Tate needed most of last season to rehab his knee from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in his final season at the University of North Carolina. After making his debut, he lasted two games before reinjuring the knee and sitting out the rest of the season.

High expectations followed Tate into 2010. Not only was his speed expected to be a plus on special teams, he also had the skills to become one of Brady’s frequent targets. The special teams impact was seen in the opener when Tate returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals. Three weeks later, he returned a kickoff 103 yards for a score against Miami.

But opposing teams have zeroed in on Tate on kickoffs recently. Against the Lions, he was held to an average of 17.3 yards on four returns. Tate said Detroit pinned him against the sideline, limiting his options.

Eleven games into the season, Tate said he expects more out of himself. In Week 2 against the Jets, Tate had one catch for 17 yards. He said he feels like a different player as the Patriots prepare for the rematch Monday night at Gillette Stadium.

“I feel like I got a little smarter with the game, and since this really is like my first year, I go out there and try to get used to everything,’’ Tate said.

One way to get used to the NFL is by leaning on veterans. Deion Branch said he has been trying to work with Tate to help bring him along.

“I’m always talking to that guy,’’ Branch said. “Him, Julian [Edelman], Taylor [Price], all the young guys. I’m constantly talking to these guys and they’re constantly asking questions.’’

In the little time Branch has been Tate’s teammate, he can see the potential.

“I’m very excited to be a teammate of his just to see what this guy can become,’’ Branch said. “The sky is the limit with that guy. He has all the intangibles to be a great receiver.’’

One way to get to that point is to keep working. After practices, he has been catching passes from the JUGS machine. He also has been doing his best to earn Brady’s trust.

“He’s not going to really keep coming to you like that [if he doesn’t trust you],’’ Tate said. “It starts with practice. That’s how you earn his trust. In the game, he knows you might drop a ball, but he knows you’ll bounce back.’’

Brady spreads the ball around, and Tate said he is doing all he can to stay ready if Brady comes his way Monday night.

“Most of the time you don’t know if it’s going to be your number,’’ Tate said. “You just run your route and he might throw it to you. So you have to be ready.’’

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