Patriots Hope Gaffney Can Help

Following up a hard-fought win over the Dolphins in which Tom Brady completed just 16 passes for 140 yards, his fourth performance this season with 16 or fewer completions and third game with fewer than 200 yards passing, the Patriots continued to try to spark a stagnant passing game with the signing of veteran free agent wide receiver Jabar Gaffney on October 9th.

Gaffney is one of a handful of veteran wide receivers the Patriots have worked out in recent weeks, a group that included former Lions first-round bust Charles Rogers and veteran journeyman Kevin Johnson. After carrying just four receivers in the win over Miami - veteran Troy Brown, rookie Chad Jackson and first-year Patriots Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel - New England added its third former star University of Florida wide receiver of the year to try to replace departed top targets David Givens and Deion Branch.

A former 2002 second-round pick for the Texans, the 6-1, 205-pound Gaffney, joins a Caldwell and Jackson as former Gators looking to help Brady through what's on course to be his most challenging season in the passing game. After leading the league with 4,110 passing yards last fall, Brady is on pace to throw for less than 3,300 yards, a number that would mark a career low as a full-time starter.

In his four NFL seasons in Houston, Gaffney recorded 171 receptions for 2,009 yards and seven touchdowns in 64 games with 50 career starts. He signed with the Eagles this offseason, but was cut by Philadelphia in the final wave of roster cuts prior to the season.

Can Gaffney, who caught a career high 55 passes last season in Houston, help out the still struggling passing attack in New England?

"I don't know," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on the day of the signing. "We'll take a look at him. He's had some production in the league. We have a couple of weeks here to work on it, so we'll see what happens."

Gaffney will spend the Patriots bye week trying to learn the system and build a relationship with Brady, something Caldwell and Jackson have been trying to do all summer and what Gabriel's tried to do since arriving via trade from Oakland on Sept. 2. Through five games New England's wide receivers have just 41 receptions for 466 yards and five scores. The 14-year veteran Brown leads the way with 15 catches for 168 yards and two scores.

So whether Gaffney can succeed in picking up the offense and building a bond with Brady is an unknown at this point for the 4-1 Patriots. But one thing is for sure, there's certainly receiving roles to be won in New England, even a third of the way through 2006. Unfortunately for Brady and Co., none of the new faces has done much to date to secure those roles. In Gaffney the Patriots have yet another newcomer vying to produce and make fans forget about the offseason departures and struggles the passing game has faced in the first month-plus of the season.

To make room for Gaffney on the roster New England released veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Acquired in a training camp trade with Saints in exchange for disappointing wideout Bethel Johnson, the former sixth overall pick never got into any sort of groove in New England. Sullivan struggled to pick up the Patriots two-gap, 3-4 scheme in training camp and got thoroughly dominated in the bulk of his preseason action. He'd been inactive for each of New England's first five regular season contests.

The team also released veteran defensive back Hank Poteat. Poteat had signed to solidify a banged up New England secondary on Sept. 27, getting the start at nickel back that week against the Bengals. But with the bye week and returning health of Ellis Hobbs (wrist) and others, Poteat's emergency contributions were no longer needed.

Notes:

--QB Tom Brady recorded his first single-game passer rating over 90 of the season against Miami, completing 16-of-29 passes for 140 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 91.2 rating. Through the first five weeks, Brady now has an 82.6 passer rating, below his 88.1 career rating heading into this season.

--RB Laurence Maroney found tough going on the ground against the Dolphins, gaining just 38 yards on 18 carries (2.1 avg.). But the rookie still leads the Patriots through five games with 332 yards on 78 carries (4.3 avg.) and three touchdowns. He's also caught six passes for 76 yards.

--TE Benjamin Watson caught four passes for 33 yards in the win over Miami and continues to pace the Patriots passing game with 16 catches for 211 yards.

--WR Chad Jackson got his first career start against the Dolphins, but was shut down without a catch in the game. The rookie now has just four catches for 51 yards and one score.

--WR Troy Brown continues to defy time, leading New England with five catches for 58 yards against Miami with his second score of the season. Brown is second on the team with 15 catches for 168 yards and two scores through five games.

--DL Jarvis Green recorded New England's lone sack in the win over Miami. Despite playing in a reserve role all season, Green leads the Patriots with 4.5 sacks on the year.

--LB Tedy Bruschi had a team high 10 tackles against the Dolphins and also had a key first quarter fumble recovery to set up New England's first score, a 35-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

--DL Ty Warren continues to make plays for New England, finishing the win over Miami with three solo tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.

--PR Kevin Faulk averaged 14.0 yards on two punt returns against the Dolphins. For the season Faulk has averaged 13.5 yards on 10 returns, on pace for a career best in the area that would surpass his 13.2 average on just five returns in 2003.

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