James White reached double-digit receptions for the third time in his career on Sunday.
Was it a silver lining? Yes.
The previous occasions were more prolific. There was a 10-catch, 115-yard showing versus the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 6, 2015, and also a certain 14-catch, 110-yard performance during a meeting with the Atlanta Falcons in February.
Both of those games netted receiving touchdowns and additional marks for White. One of those games netted the New England Patriots a rather important victory, too.
That certainly was not how things panned out in the 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium over the weekend, as the Patriots’ defense conceded plays of 43, 28 and 25 yards while allowing quarterback Cam Newton to amass his highest yardage tally through the air since last October. But New England’s fourth-year running back gave more of what he has given since Super Bowl LI.
“Well, he always does a great job,” quarterback Tom Brady said of White in his postgame press conference Sunday afternoon, via Patriots.com. “Ever since he really started playing, he's got the ball to him a lot. So, he's done a great job. He's so consistent, dependable, and we've just got to keep getting him the ball.”
White got the ball plenty opposite Carolina. After catching 12 passes through the Patriots’ initial three contests, he caught 10 passes for 47 yards.
Brady threw his way a dozen times, and on the following downs and distances.
TARGETS AGAINST PANTHERS
- Second-and-10, Carolina 31: incomplete
- First-and-10, New England 35: five-yard completion
- Third-and-2, Carolina 49: three-yard completion
- First-and-10, Carolina 46: four-yard completion
- Third-and-4, New England 32: five-yard completion
- First-and-10, Carolina 15: minus-two-yard completion
- First-and-10, New England 25: nine-yard completion
- Third-and-2, New England 15: three-yard completion
- First-and-10, New England 25: six-yard completion
- Second-and-4, New England 31: eight-yard completion
- Second-and-9, Carolina 44: six-yard completion
- Third-and-3, Carolina 38: incomplete
Five looks on first down, three on second down, and four on third down – White managed to move the chains on four of those opportunities. None of the passing results exceeded nine yards, but he provided an outlet when Brady had few under duress. He turned long into short. He turned a little into a little more underneath.
And that was nothing new.
Through the first quarter of 2017, White has now reeled in a team-high 22 balls for a fourth-ranked 173 yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski checks in next with 20 catches and for a Patriots-best 318 receiving yards, followed by Brandin Cooks’ 294 on 13 and fellow wideout Chris Hogan’s 214 on 15.
White is the safety valve among them. He’s on pace for 88 catches to go with 692 yards by the end of Week 17.
It’s no small dent for the 2014 fourth-round pick, who has also handled 18 handoffs from Brady for 73 yards thus far into this regular season while sharing snaps with Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. White has yet to hit the end zone for New England through the first month – Gillislee, Burkhead and Lewis can’t say the same – yet his role may be the most independent of the bunch.
Coming off a campaign in which he collected five scores through the air alone, all while notching 60 catches for 551 yards, it’s understandable as to why.
RECEPTIONS BY REGULAR SEASON
- 2014: five catches, 23 yards in four games
- 2015: 40 catches, 410 yards, four touchdowns in 14 games
- 2016: 60 catches, 551 yards, five touchdowns in 16 games
- 2017: 22 catches, 173 yards in four games
Only Tony Collins and Leroy Thompson – 77 in 1986 and 65 in in 1994, respectively – amassed more receptions out of the Patriots’ backfield in a single season. And only Collins’ 684 receiving yards stand of White’s 2016 output as far as the position goes in Foxborough.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Wisconsin product has a shot to take sole possession of first place in both categories by the time New Year’s Eve arrives. That is a long ways out from now. It is also a long ways from being at the forefront of the Patriots’ priorities. It is, however, something to keep an eye on as the calendar flips to October and a 2-2 team works to find its identity.
No. 28 appears to have his.