FOXBORO, Mass. — One 13-second span Sunday showed exactly how far Phillip Dorsett has come as a New England Patriots wide receiver.
Late in the first half of New England’s regular-season opener against the Houston Texans, with the Patriots leading by eight and driving toward the red zone, Dorsett became the focal point of the team’s passing attack.
Quarterback Tom Brady targeted the 25-year-old wideout three times on four snaps, producing a 12-yard gain, a 14-yard pickup and a 4-yard touchdown that wound up being the game-winner in the Patriots’ 27-20 victory at Gillette Stadium.
Dorsett continued to produce after halftime, finishing with a career-high seven catches on seven targets for 66 yards and one score.
“Phillip did a great job, got some opportunity and then came up with the plays, came up with the catches,” Brady said after the game. “It’s kind of what he’s been doing all camp, all spring, and it was good to see it show up (Sunday). We needed it. We need everybody who’s out there to make plays.
This was the same Dorsett who caught just 12 passes all last season after being traded to New England on cutdown day, never tallying more than three receptions in any of his first 18 games in a Patriots uniform. Despite playing 377 snaps, he was an afterthought in a Patriots offense that was fully stocked with weapons.
That changed this offseason when Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola both left town, Julian Edelman was slapped with a four-game PED suspension and Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews, Eric Decker and Kenny Britt all failed to make the team. Thought to be on the roster bubble entering camp, Dorsett wound up beginning the season as the Patriots’ No. 2 receiver behind Chris Hogan.
Dorsett impressed in New England’s third preseason game, and against the Texans, he outplayed both Hogan and No. 3 wideout Cordarrelle Patterson, each of whom finished with just one catch.
“I feel like (Brady and I) had a definitely had a better connection (Sunday),” Dorsett said. “That’s what we were working on this whole camp, and it showed (Sunday).”
Dorsett viewed his strong showing as the result of the work he’d put in throughout the summer to develop a connection with Brady and fully digest Josh McDaniels’ offense, which he had to learn on the fly last season.
“I would say I’m most happy about the execution, honestly,” he said. “I worked really hard this offseason as an individual and as a team just trying to get this thing down, just getting the timing down with Tom. We spent days (working) during periods and after periods, after practice, just trying to execute. Just trying to get it together. And I’m just happy we executed today, honestly. That’s the biggest plus.”
On his touchdown catch, Dorsett motioned across the formation and beat cornerback Kevin Johnson with a quick jab step, resulting in an easy pitch and catch from Brady.
“The coverage that we (practiced against) all week, they were in that same coverage,” Dorsett said. “And I knew if we made the right play and if I broke out, I was going to be able to be open. I just had to make the catch.”
Dorsett victimized Johnson with another juke early in the fourth quarter, leaving the Texans defender grasping at air as he turned a quick screen pass into a first down. He said he learned the move from Patterson, who pulled a similar one against the Philadelphia Eagles during the preseason.
“Cordarrelle Patterson, he taught it to me,” Dorsett said with a smile.
Dorsett’s breakout performance should quiet some of the concerns surrounding the Patriots’ new-look receiving corps.
“He’s worked hard all spring, all training camp,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been out there every day and just keeps getting better.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images