FOXBORO, Mass. — During the Patriots' first four games of the season, wide receiver Brandon Tate looked like the organization's next Raymond Clayborn, a home-run hitting kick returner who could find pay dirt every time he touched the ball.
Since then, though, Tate has come back to earth, as other teams have adjusted their kickoff coverage to neutralize Tate's big-play ability.
"They try to pin me to the sidelines," Tate said Friday. "Last game [against the Lions], they didn’t. Other than that, they'll probably try to do it more to kick it away. [I just have to] be alert and be ready."
The numbers are pretty remarkable. Through four games, Tate averaged 33.4 yards over 18 kickoff returns, and he had two touchdowns. What's more, Tate's average led the NFL among all players who had returned at least 11 kicks. He was the best in the league in both style and substance.
But in his last seven games, Tate has averaged 19.7 yards over 18 kickoff returns, and he hasn’t come close to scoring, with his longest return in that span going for 35 yards.
During that time, Tate's average ranks last in the NFL among the 21 players who have returned at least 15 kicks.
Of course, it would be unfair to put it all on Tate, as the return unit has to help him out, too. And now that teams have adjusted to Tate's tendencies, he was asked what he has to do to counter back.
"Just got to go out there and execute the play, whatever it is," Tate said. "Whatever the kicker does, we've just got to do our job."
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