FOXBORO, Mass. — After sitting out seven of the final eight games of the New England Patriots’ regular season, all Chris Hogan wants to do now is play football — as much football as the team will allow him to play.
So when the Patriots asked him ahead of last Saturday’s playoff game to serve on the punt return team — a position he hadn’t played since training camp — the wide receiver jumped at the opportunity. His reasoning was simple.
“I want to be out there as much as possible,” Hogan said Wednesday as the Patriots prepared to host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game this Sunday. “This could be our last game, so if I don?t have to come off the field, that?s great. Whatever I can do to help the team win, I?m going to go out there and do that to the best of my ability.”
Hogan, who suffered a serious shoulder injury in a Week 8 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, played a small but important role in the Patriots’ divisional-round beatdown of the Tennessee Titans.
He caught just one pass on four targets, but it resulted in a Patriots touchdown, his first since Week 5. He also laid out Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard with a whopper of an open-field block early in the second quarter.
?Yeah, that definitely helped kind of get back into the swing of things,” Hogan said with a smile. “I was just trying to make a good, clean block, and I was able to spring Dion (Lewis) for a few more yards.?
All told, Hogan played 67 offensive snaps (83 percent) in the 34-15 victory, plus another eight on punt returns, nearly equaling his regular-season total of 10 special-teams snaps.
“Obviously, for me coming back after missing a couple (games), I was pretty excited to be out there,” he said. “So maybe the first couple plays, maybe your adrenaline?s going, but once you settle in, you just fall back on the things you?ve been working on this entire year and just trust your ability.”
The time away from the field was frustrating for the 29-year-old, who was coming off a breakout 2016 season during which he set career highs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. He’d never missed extended time with an injury before, sitting out just one game over his four NFL seasons.
But as his condition improved, his frustration turned to resolve.
Though a return to game action in Week 14 ended poorly — clearly not 100 percent, Hogan caught just one pass for 1 yard in a loss to the Miami Dolphins and then sat out the next three games — he continued to practice through the end of the regular season, even earning practice player of the week honors before New England’s Week 17 win over the New York Jets.
“We put a lot into this,” Hogan said, “and to miss those games and not be out there with the guys is definitely frustrating. But once you kind of get over that frustration, you do whatever you can to A) get yourself better and get back on the field, and B) just making sure that you?re in tune with everything that?s going on.”
Now fully healthy, Hogan is ready to do whatever it takes to help bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy home to Foxboro. This Sunday, that means competing against a Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback duo — first-team All-Pro Jalen Ramsey and second-teamer A.J. Bouye — that’s widely considered the best in the NFL.
“They?re definitely some of the best corners in the league,” Hogan said. “They?ve gone out there consistently, throughout the entire season, and been very productive and played very well. We know that, and we?re going to have to go out there and play hard and trust in ourselves and trust in our offense.”