The Patriots Will Be OK

New England Patriots fans who are wringing their hands of the the team's selections in this April's NFL Draft and through the free agency wire should take comfort knowing that things will be ok. The Patriots lost big name free agents David Givens, Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri and signed in their place, Reche Caldwell, Barry Gardner and Martin Gramatica.

For any rabid Patriots fan concerned about any perceived deficiency on his or her favorite football team, here are two words to calm the nerves.

Heath. Evans.

If you have any doubts that the Pats will have a plan for any possible problem, remember the tale of Evans.

Evans started the 2005 season in Miami, a holdover from the Dave Wannstedt era that new coach Nick Saban didn't take a shine to. He was released early in the year, and if the Patriots were interested in him, they kept it to themselves.

They were all set at the RB position. Plan A was Corey Dillon, and that was a damn good plan. Plan B was Kevin Faulk, and that wasn't so bad either. Plan C was Patrick Pass, which wasn't great, but that's why it was Plan C. Plan D was the best of the league's free-agent tailbacks, and no one wanted that plan.

And Heath Evans? Heath Evans was not a plan. Not Plan E, not Plan F, not even the highly underrated Plan Z. At best, Heath Evans was Plan JJ, the one that came right after coaxing Sam Cunningham out of retirement.

Yet, in Week 10 of the 2006 season, there was Evans. Signed off the street, the guy who had averaged exactly 1.61 yards per game over his career as a backup fullback rumbled for 84 yards on 17 carries and led the Pats to a season-altering road win in Miami. He ran for 74 the following week before going back to his more natural role as backup/spectator.

The Evans saga would have been even more amazing if it didn't happen so often under Belichick. Jermaine Wiggins catching 10 balls in the Snow Bowl, Pass gaining 153 yards from scrimmage in his first shot as a tailback, J.R. Redmond catching big passes in the Super Bowl. "Heath Evans Moments" are more or less Belichick trademarks.

Here are the top 10 out-of-nowhere contributors in the Belichick era.

10. David Patten, 2001: Patten was an unknown speed guy from Cleveland who didn't exactly turn heads for a Pats' team coming off a 5-11 season and picked last in the division. Patten got the starting job and had 47 yards in the season opener. By the time the Pats won it all, every fan knew and loved him.

9. Hank Poteat, 2004 playoffs: No one adds players that count in the postseason, but the Pats had to do it during their third Super Bowl run. So they added Poteat -- a guy that hadn't played all year, but played 50 percent of the defensive snaps in the AFC Championship game.

8. Artrell Hawkins, 2005: Needing a safety in the worst way midway through a shaky season, Belichick and crew signed Hawkins - who was neither a safety nor a hot property, having sat out the entire season. But he ended up fitting in nicely, and although the secondary was not great, Hawkins held his own.

7. Stephen Neal, 2002 (and 2004): Neal was a project, a free-agent wrestler turned football player who finally got his shot in a midseason game against Green Bay in 2002. He played well but got injured, and missed all of 2002 and 2003. So, he was still an unknown when he won the left guard spot in 2004 and became one of the Pats' best linemen.

6. Joe Andruzzi, 2000: Belichick was in the middle of turning over the roster in his first season when he signed this guy off the waiver wire after Week 1. A week later, he was starting at guard, and he'd start every game he was able to until leaving for Cleveland with three Super Bowl rings.

5. Troy Brown, 2004: OK, we all knew Troy Brown the receiver and Troy Brown the returner. But Troy Brown the defensive back? Who? He broke in as a two-way player in a midseason game against St. Louis that'll go down as a classic -- Brown caught a touchdown pass from Adam Vinatieri on a fake, made three tackles and knocked down a pass. You can only imagine what a Pats fan waking from a coma would have thought on that day. "I thought No. 80 was Troy Brown. What's he doing playing defense? Hmm. Must be the coma."

4. Russ Hochstein, 2003 playoffs: Another guy who got his shot at the most pivotal of times, starting for the first time at guard in the Super Bowl against Carolina. Considering the Pats dominated the battle of the trenches -- and gave a big middle finger to Warren Sapp, who questioned Hochstein at Media Day -- Hochstein was one of the best fill-ins since Pete Best went for a sandwich during Beatles practice and Ringo took over. I know it didn't actually happen like that, but you get the point.

3. Eugene Wilson, 2003: Wilson was a second-round pick as a cornerback from Illinois, so he wasn't a total unknown in the early stages of 2003. But the Pats were in good shape at corner, needing a safety thanks to the release of Lawyer Milloy. Then in Week 3, Belichick inserted Wilson into the starting lineup alongside Rodney Harrison at safety. The team's record the rest of the way? How about 16-1, including playoffs. Nice move.

2. Randall Gay, 2004: The guy didn't start in college, didn't get drafted and was about No. 27 on the depth chart in the summer of 2004. But by October, the other 26 guys were hurt and he was playing well as a starter. He recovered a fumble in his first start, and never got picked on like you'd think he would have. He was a pretty darn good cornerback, by gosh! And when the Pats got to their third Super Bowl, Gay was still on the front lines -- from college backup to Super Bowl starter in about 13 months.

1. Tom Brady, 2001: Wears No. 12, as I recall ...

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