FOXBORO, Mass. — Two months ago, Matt Lengel was midway through his second season on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad. As recently as two weeks ago, he still was seeking his first NFL catch.
Now, the 23-year-old tight end is just over a week away from playing in a postseason game for a New England Patriots team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
“It’s a special place to be, in the playoffs,” Lengel said. “I’m just anxious for the opportunity and excited and just looking forward to whatever the game has.”
A horde of media members gathered around Lengel’s locker Thursday morning, evidence of how his role in the Patriots’ offense has grown in recent weeks. With superstar Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve, Lengel is New England’s second-string tight end behind Martellus Bennett and should play a modest but nonetheless important part in next Saturday night’s divisional-round game at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots signed Lengel off the Bengals’ practice squad Nov. 2, but he didn’t make his New England debut until Nov. 20 and didn’t catch his first career pass until Christmas Eve. That catch, which came during the Patriots’ 41-3 shellacking of the New York Jets, also resulted in Lengel’s first touchdown since 2011 — his sophomore season at Eastern Kentucky.
“Everybody’s wondering who the heck I am,” Lengel told reporters a few days after that game. “… It’s crazy the amount of people that have reached out or where I’ve seen my name.”
New England’s stable of offensive weapons arguably is the deepest in the NFL, so quarterback Tom Brady likely won’t look Lengel’s way too often as the Patriots begin their push for a fifth Lombardi Trophy. Lengel is eager to contribute however he can, though, and he’s trying not to let the prospect of potentially playing in his first Super Bowl affect his preparation for next Saturday.
“You can’t get caught thinking about that too much,” said Lengel, who finished the regular season with two catches for 22 yards. “As a little kid, you think about it and dream of what it would be like and wonder if you’ll ever even get the opportunity. Now that it’s here, just coming to the playoffs and everything, it’s one day at a time, one play at a time, one game at a time. You’ve just got to keep yourself contained.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images