Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught Jimmy Garoppolo’s first NFL touchdown pass.
You’ll get a free scoop of avocado ice cream if you recall that 13-yard completion, given that it came during the waning moments of New England’s apocalyptic 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014.
Chris Hogan caught Garoppolo’s second career TD pass. That 37-yard sweet scoring strike was Jimmy G’s first touchdown pass that really mattered to the Patriots. It concluded the team’s first possession of 2016 and put New England up 7-0 on the road in Arizona on Sunday night.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2016
“You couldn’t have scripted that any better,” Hogan said Wednesday (via Patriots.com). “It was pretty exciting. I was happy that we were able to jump off to a good start, and Jimmy obviously played really well in the game.”
On the play, tight end Martellus Bennett shifted in motion to the right side, taking a safety with him. That left Hogan open in single coverage against rookie cornerback Brandon Williams. Garoppolo checked off at the line, Hogan broke free from Williams at the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots had a lead they held until the fourth quarter.
Hogan, who came to the Patriots from Buffalo in the offseason and signed a 3-year, $12 million deal, would catch 2 more passes Sunday night. But it was Hogan’s touchdown catch that served as his unofficial welcome to New England fans – and as his nationwide introduction as the latest replaceable constant in Bill Belichick’s offensive Enigma code.
And if Hogan bore a resemblance to Patriots wide outs past and present, such as Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, it is by part of the blueprint drafted by the Patriots and Hogan himself.
“I obviously grew up and used to model some of my stuff after Welker,” Hogan told Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “Being with Julian, you can learn a lot from him, too. Those guys are (people) you can aspire to be like just because of where they came from, where they started. (They) have a similar story as undrafted (or a late-round pick) just trying to make a roster and just kept working hard and were able to find a spot in this offense. The quarterback trusted them, and they were able to make a lot of plays on the field. It’d be nice to be able to do the same thing.”
More importantly for Hogan’s success and survival in the New England is that he’s worked his way into the single most exclusive chamber in all of New England pro sports – the Tom Brady Preferred Receiver Club (TBPRC).
Current and previous TBPRC members have included Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Randy Moss, Welker, Edelman and Danny Amendola. There is an adjacent room with two dance poles and an open bar reserved for Gronkowski. And there is a cell at MCI Cedar Junction currently housing Aaron Hernandez.
So how well did these other TBPRC members do in their first year in New England? Well, for the purpose of comparison to Hogan, we’re going to skip Moss and the tight ends. Moss is the only world-beater-speed, legit deep threat, Hall of Fame WR target Brady has had in 15 years. In his first season with the Patriots (2007) Moss caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards for all-time, single-season, NFL-record 23 touchdowns.
Brown preceded Brady in New England. In his first year playing catch with TB12 (2001), he grabbed 101 passes for 1,199 yards and 5 touchdowns. As a rookie in 2002, Branch played in 13 games and totaled 489 yards on 43 catches, two of which were scores.
Welker came to New England in 2007. While sharing the ball with Moss, Welker still caught 112 passes for 1,175 yards and 6 TDs. Edelman was a QB in college. He vacillated as a punt returner and WR for four seasons in New England. Once he gained full-time WR status in New England in 2013, he made 105 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 scores.
Amendola’s first season in New England was marred by injury. In his 12 games in 2012, he still caught 65 passes for 633 yards and was targeted 85 times.
When it comes to the TBPRC, repetitive mistakes are not tolerated (see the recently departed Aaron Dobson), nor are dropped passes (we mean you, Scott Chandler), nor is unrealized potential (look away Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson).
You either gain entrance quickly or spend a season or two banging on the door before you are invited to leave the building by Belichick.
Hogan caught 4 passes from Brady during the preseason (tied for the team high), including a sweet 33-yard score against the Panthers. Hogan earned his gold key into TBPRC due to his foot speed, football smarts, ability to run the right route at the right time and a willingness to absorb and adopt “The Patriot Way.”
Hogan not only impressed Brady with his smarts and skills during camp and the preseason, he’s earned Pink Stripes cred with Garoppolo, as well.
“Just having confidence in your teammates. When they have confidence in you (and) you confidence in them, it’s easy to stay poised out there,” Garoppolo said after Sunday game (via Patriots.com). “You’re in the huddle, you’re all looking at each other and it’s a good feeling. The play with Chris, he had a great release and it makes it an easy throw for me.”
Coming to New England from AFC East doormat Buffalo has given Hogan both incentive and inspiration. New England opens its 2016 home schedule Sunday against division foe Miami.
“I’m pretty pumped,” Hogan said Wednesday (via Patriots.com). “I was excited for preseason, so I can’t even imagine (the) regular season. I’m probably going to have to dial back my feelings going into this game so I don’t get overly excited. But I’m more than excited. Especially coming in here and playing the Dolphins.”
The Bills’ only win at Gillette Stadium since 2000 came in the 2014 regular-season finale when no starter wearing a Patriots uniform cared. Meanwhile, the Dolphins haven’t beaten the Patriots in Foxborough since 2008 – when Brady was sidelined due to a season-ending ACL injury.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Hogan said, through the prism of a former foe. “We know how good the Patriots are — or how good we are. So obviously, these teams — Miami, Buffalo, the (New York) Jets — I’m sure that they put a lot of time into these games and preparing for the Patriots.”
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who grew up in the Bay State and has been following the Patriots since 1970. He writes the Obnoxious Boston Fan column for the Boston Herald. He Tweets @RealOBF and @BillSperos