FOXBOROUGH, MA – During the infamous “Snow Bowl” playoff game against the Raiders, the Patriots had the ball on the Oakland 27-yard-line on fourth down and four yards to go in overtime. They faced a stiff wind of snow.
Although Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri will always be remembered for winning the game in the end, a 45-yard field goal was near impossible in those conditions at that point in the game. The Patriots were force to go for the first down.
Quarterback Tom Brady took the snap and dropped five steps straight back. He looked right, then left. He pump-faked once and then he pump-faked again and as the defensive pressure began to creep in on Brady, he spotted receiver David Patten on the left side of the snow covered hash-marks sprinting back to the line-of scrimmage. Patten was able to get himself free in the blizzard and open at about six yards down field.
Brady fired the ball to the speedy receiver. As Patten fell to his knees in about a foot of snow, he secured the ball in his bread-basket before being smothered by Raiders linebacker William Thomas. The catch helped keep the drive alive and set up an easier 27 yard game-winning field goal for Vinatieri as the place-kicker was carried off the field in the victory.
No one ever carried Patten off the field, but as David hangs up his cleats to retire after 12 years in the NFL, Patriots fans should not forget what a pivotal role the 5-foot-9, 190 pound receiver played during the Patriots early millennium Super Bowl dynasty. Without Patten, there may not have been a dynasty.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick raved about Patten’s “speed and receiving ability.” He said “those are the things that kept him in the league and made him the outstanding player that he was. He made so many big plays for us.”
Patten played for the Patriots from 2001-04, when New England won three Super Bowl titles. He had 165 receptions for 2,513 yards and 16 touchdowns in 54 games in New England.
Patten came to New England as an unheralded free agent from Cleveland and had to fill the void of troubled pro bowl receiver Terry Glenn. Glenn that year was suspended from the team twice in 2001 and eventually kicked off the team after playing in only four games. Patten also had to beat out several other receivers to even make the roster.
Wide receiver David Patten #86 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown catch during the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
“By the time I had gotten into camp, there were like six different additional receivers and I was like number six on the depth chart – Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, Bert Emanuel all those guys that played 10-plus years and had a lot more stats than I did,” said Patten “ I believe a week into camp, Belichick comes and calls me out of a meeting, and I’m thinking he’s getting ready to release me, because during training camp if you get called out of a meeting, there's not too much good going on … he’s like, ‘Hey, you’ve shown us that you have the capability to be a good player and we want to sign you to an extension.’ That was the beginning to it all. I think I signed a three-year extension.”
With the steady play of Patten, Glenn’s absence was never missed during that first Super Bowl Championship run in 2001. He started 14 of 16 regular season games at wide receiver and had a career year, setting highs with 51 catches for 749 yards and four receiving touchdowns in 2001. That season, he became the first player since Walter Payton in 1979 to rush for a touchdown, catch a touchdown pass and throw for a touchdown in the same game, when Patten did it against the Colts. In that same game, he was on the receiving end of the longest pass play in Patriots history, a 91-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady. He finished with 117 receiving yards and a pair of receiving scores, tying a career best. He accounted for 206 of the team's 385 yards in the game. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week and Miller Lite Player of the Week following his performance at Indianapolis.
His impact in the regular season was dwarfed by his performance in the postseason that year. Patten had 13 receptions for 154 yards (11.8 avg.) and two touchdowns during the 2001 postseason.
During the Snow Bowl game against the Raiders, Patten kept the Patriots in the game with eight catches for a game-high 107 yards. His receiving performance was the fourth-highest single-game receiving total in Patriots postseason history and he did it in the middle of a snow storm. The most important fact about his receptions was that all eight of his catches resulted in first downs, including the aforementioned 6-yard grab on fourth-and-four, extending their game-winning field goal drive.
New England Patriots wide receiver David Patten (86) pulls in an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Bledsoe as Pittsburgh SteelersJason Gildon (92) defends in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002, in Pittsburgh. Bledsoe, playing for the first time in more than four months, lofted the ball to Patten deep in the right corner of the end zone. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)
Patten continued his clutch play in the AFC title game against Pittsburg catching an 11-yard touchdown pass in the right-back corner of the end zone from Drew Bledsoe. He grabbed a similar pass from Brady against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Both catches gave the Patriots a 14-3 halftime lead in both games. The Patriots never trailed in either game the rest of the way as they went on to win the franchise’s first championship.
“There are a number of times when I’ve been over in the Hall [at Patriot Place] next door or you flip on the TV and it seems like there’s always a David Patten highlight,” said Belichick. “He had so many big plays for us – of course the catch in Super Bowl XXXVI. I remember when we changed that play; I can still see it down there in the Tulane practice field. We ran the out-cut. I was talking to Ernie [Adams] and [we] felt like they would be sitting on the route just the way we were playing. And then Charlie [Weis] and I talked about it and we turned it into an out-and-up and it was the only offensive touchdown in the game. That’s just a typical David Patten play, although he made one the week before against Pittsburgh for a touchdown in that game from Drew [Bledsoe].”
In 2002, Patten again started 14 of 16 games, setting a career-high with 61 receptions, 824 yards, and five touchdowns while leading Patriots receivers with 13.5 yards per catch. He finished tied with Troy Brown for the team lead with two 100-yard receiving games against Kansas City and Miami and 38 of his 61 catches resulted in first downs.
The highlight of that season was in Chicago when the Patriots trailed 27-6 late in the third quarter. With 28 seconds left in the game, Patten made an athletic, tiptoe catch in the back of the end zone to snare a game-winning, 20-yard touchdown pass in the Patriots thrilling 33-30 win over the Bears.
New England Patriots wide receiver David Patten, left, is greeted by wide receiver Deion Branch (83) after Patten caught the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the final minute against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Nov. 10, 2002 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. The Patriots beat the Bears 33-30. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Patten started five of the team's first six games in 2003 before being placed on injured reserve. Patten returned to start 11 of 16 games in 2004, recording 44 catches for 800 yards (18.2 yards a catch) and seven touchdowns and earning his third Super Bowl ring in a win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. At this point, his playing time began to diminish. The play of younger receivers like Deion Branch and David Givens began cut into his playing time. He did not start a game in the playoffs his final year in New England.
Upon hearing of his former teammate’s retirement, Branch, now in Seattle, credits much of his own success to his early influences playing with Patten. “I guarantee you, this guy gave this game everything he could,” said Branch, who was Super Bowl XXXIX MVP for the Patriots. “He’s not one to second-guess. He’s going to give it his all right now and give it everything he has. That’s one of the things he taught me.’’
Along with the Patriots, Patten played for the New York Giant, Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, and New Orleans Saints before returning to the Patriots during the 2010 training camp. He leaves the game with 324 career receptions for 4,715 yards and 24 receiving touchdowns.
Although he only spent a quarter of his NFL career in New England, he has left an indelible mark with his teammates and the franchise.
Offensive tackle Matt Light described Patten as “a good guy; a great leader. (Patten is) a good guy to have in the locker room.”
Light also credits Patten for an infectious work ethic that spread throughout the team. “He’s a humble guy. He goes about his business the right way; a true professional that other guys look up to and he’s a good role model for the younger cats to come in and maybe have an idea as to what the league is all about. He sets them on the right path.”
Light also said he was a player who could just make the big play. “He always did when he was here, and I always respected him about that.”
“I’ll remember David being on the field, but I don’t think it will be on the field [that I remember him most],” said running back Kevin Faulk. “I think it’s off the field, personally, that David Patten really touched a lot of people’s lives in this locker room when he was here the first time and this time.”
“David came here and has been an outstanding player for this organization,” said Belichick. “We have a lot of players that work hard, but I think David sets the pace for work ethic … he’s got a great attitude.”
As Patten now calls an end to his football career, Belichick said “It’s a sad moment, but it’s also a very happy one to celebrate a truly great career.”
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin ( here ).
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