FOXBORO — When it comes to assessing David Patten’s place in Patriots’ history, the numbers only tell a small portion of the story.
In four seasons with New England (2001 through 2004), he had 165 catches for 4,715 yards and sixteen touchdowns. (In all, his 165 receptions are good for 24th in franchise history.) He was also on the receiving end of the longest pass play in team history, a 91-yarder from Tom Brady that came in October 2001 against the Colts. And in that same contest, he became the first player since Walter Payton in 1979 to run, catch and pass for touchdowns in a single contest.
But according to former teammates and coaches, the numbers do not tell you all you need to know about the man.
“He was an inspiration — [he was] every aspect of a man that you would want to model yourself behind — similar to Troy Brown. He lifts you up, in every aspect,” Kevin Faulk said of Patten, who retired Saturday after trying to return for a second tour with the Patriots. “The funny thing is it’s not a game [I’ll remember about] David Patten. It’s David Patten the person that I’ll remember most. Sitting down and having talks with guys that need to be talked to. Inspirational talks with guys he might feel are going in the wrong direction. That’s the David Patten I’ll remember.
“Now, don’t forget — I will remember the football player. But as a person, him sitting down and talking to guys on the football team one-on-one and letting them know who is first in our life before we do anything, and that’s God. That’s what I’ll remember David for.”
“He’s had a tremendous career,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was clearly emotional regarding Patten’s retirement announcement on Saturday. “He’s meant a lot to this team and a lot to this organization.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank him for his contributions to this football team.”
While his former teammates and coaches will recall Patten the man, on the occasion of his retirement — after 12 seasons in the NFL, four with the Patriots — we’ll recall Patten the player with his five best games in a New England uniform:
5) Feb. 3, 2002 — Super Bowl XXXVI vs. Rams: Patten scored the Patriots only offensive touchdown of the day, an eight-yard reception in the first half that came on a play the New England coaching staff drew up in the days leading up to the game.
“I remember when we changed that play — I can still see it down there on the Tulane practice field,” Belichick remembered Saturday. “We ran the out-cut, I was talking to Ernie (Adams), and felt like they would sit on the route, just the way they were playing. Then Charlie (Weis) and I talked about it and turned it into an out-and-up, and it was our only offensive touchdown of the game.”
Patten managed to turn St, Louis corner Dexter McCleon inside-out and make it to the back of the end zone, where he hauled in the touchdown grab to make it 14-3. (After the play, McCleon halfheartedly claimed that Patten was out of bounds. Replays showed Patten was clearly inbounds.) Remarkably, it was his only catch of the game, but it made the difference in New England’s 20-17 win over the Rams.
4) Jan. 19, 2002 — AFC divisional playoff vs. Raiders: In the first of his five career playoff games, he had a personal postseason best of eight catches for 107 yards, leading all receivers in yardage a game that was known more for the heroics of Adam Vinatieri than for Patten.
But the receiver was one of many pass catchers who was able to keep the chains moving that evening — with Troy Brown facing double coverage (and managing just four catches for 43 yards), Patten made several important receptions in the second half, including three on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that allowed the Patriots to keep pace with the Raiders before New England came away with the dramatic 16-13 overtime victory.
“I thought David Patten had a heck of a game,” said Brady afterward. “He had some huge catches, huge first downs.”
3) Sept. 22, 2002 vs. Chiefs: Statistically, one of the finest games of his career and a contest he referenced as one of his favorites in his retirement press conference. That afternoon, Patten had seven catches (two in overtime for 35 yards) for 108 yards and a touchdown, a game remembered as one of the most epic shootouts in the relatively short history of Gillette Stadium. (The Patriots won, 41-38, and Troy Brown had an absolutely ridiculous 16 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown.) That afternoon, Patten’s highlight came on a 38-yard touchdown reception he hauled in from Tom Brady on a play where the ball was thrown behind him, but where he was able to reach back and grab it with one hand, change direction, spin in the opposite direction, and sprint 38 yards for an important late score.
2) Nov. 10, 2002 vs. Bears: In a windy afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign (Soldier Field was being remodeled), New England engaged in a dogfight with the Bears. The Patriots trailed by as many as 21 points in the second half that afternoon, a game that could have seen them fall to 4-5 if they lost. But a furious second-half rally was capped off by a 20-yard touchdown reception by Patten with less than a minute to go where he tiptoed along the back of the end zone, dragging his toes to make sure he stayed inbounds. The play, which was reviewed, eventually stood, helping the Patriots finish off a dramatic 33-30 victory.
“I knew I was close. I just wanted to make sure once I caught the ball, I dropped my feet. I knew it was close. We just had to depend on the film,” Patten told reporters after the game. “When they showed it on the film, I saw it.”
“It was a slow game. We weren’t making any plays, but you’ve got to keep your head clean. You can’t focus on that,” added Patten, who finished with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. “Tom made a great throw and I was able to come down with the catch.”
1) October 21, 2001 vs. Colts: For an offensive skill position player, it was one of the greatest individual performances in franchise history, as Patten became the first player since Walter Payton in 1979 to run, catch and pass for touchdowns in the same game, helping the Patriots beat the Colts, 38-17. On Saturday, he remembered it as a “very special day,” as he finished with four receptions for 117 yards and two TDs, and accounted for four touchdowns on the day.
“It was one of those days when everything was clicking,” said Patten that afternoon, who produced 226 yards from scrimmage — four catches for 117 yards, the touchdown throw for 60, the touchdown run for 29 yards, and a kickoff return for 20 yards. “Every time I touched the ball, I was able to make something happen. That’s what I pride myself on. I think I’m able to do that every time I go on the field, and today I made it happen.”
Honorable mention: Dec. 16, 2001: Patten makes a key late catch in overtime against the Bills, but is knocked out by Buffalo defensive back Keion Carpenter and fumbles the football. But on replay review, Patten’s (unconscious) head rolls out of bounds while his body is touching the football that lay “live” at his feet. By rule, the ball is out-of-bounds and New England retains possession. Two plays later, the Patriots kick the winning field goal. Jan. 27, 2002: Patten hauls in four passes, including an 11-yard touchdown strike from Drew Bledsoe, to lift the Patriots over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh.