Jan. 1, 2017. Nineteen seconds left in the third quarter. First-and-10 from the 15. Corner-post.
For Dwayne Allen, those were the nuts and bolts behind his last catch in a game that counted.
Allen was an Indianapolis Colt then, slipping out of blocking assignments and retrieving passes from quarterback Andrew Luck. The 27-year-old tight end did so on three occasions in that New Year’s Day meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars, scoring on his last in what wound up being a 24-20 win to close the regular season.
Allen had to wait until Sunday night to secure another.
Acquired by the New England Patriots in March in exchange for a 2017 fourth-round draft choice, Allen went the first eight games of his tenure without acquiring the football. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Clemson product had been targeted seven times by Tom Brady over that 195-snap span, but each of those looks eventually found their way to the ground without him.
That was until the Patriots met the Denver Broncos at Mile High.
On the same day Martellus Bennett made his return to the lineup roughly 72 hours after being claimed off waivers, Allen made his return to the end zone. It transpired with 31 ticks to go before halftime on a second-and-10 out pattern from the 11-yard line, and saw Allen endure holding from Broncos All-Pro Von Miller to hold onto the ball.
A 315-day dry spell, over.
“I hope it’s a lesson for a lot of young guys in this league,” Allen, whose primary work has come as a blocker this season, told reporters following New England’s 41-16 victory, via Patriots.com. “I came into this league wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and thought that everything was going to be given to me. And you come here to a winning football club, and learn that it takes self-sacrifice. Like, you have to give up yourself for the benefit of the team, that that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes, you’re rewarded with a touchdown.”
Allen wasn’t rewarded earlier in the quarter, when another end-zone opportunity clanged off his fingertips as he stretched away from safety Will Parks. But the second time around resulted in Brady yelling a “[expletive] yeah.”
Allen was probably thinking the same thing as he became the 68th different player to reel in a touchdown pass from the 40-year-old quarterback.
The touchdown marked the 20th of Allen’s six-year NFL career. The catch itself, meanwhile, marked his 127th. By now both were thought to be well-eclipsed. It just hasn’t worked out that way.
"Unfortunately, we've missed him a few times when he's been wide open for some big plays,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Allen in his postgame press conference. “That was a tough catch and a big catch.”
According to Pro Football Focus’ Zoltan Buday, it took Allen until his 69th in-route snap for that first catch as a Patriot to arrive. No other tight end in the league had run more than 15 routes without one this season.
Allen may not have been privy to such specifics. But he certainly was aware of the elephant in the room – or monkey on his back – heading into Week 10.
“Getting that first catch out of the way – I felt like the ball was beating me up or me beating the ball up,” Allen conceded. “I wasn’t catching it. But yeah, it felt amazing. It felt amazing to get that monkey off my back and start heading in a positive direction.”
Allen posted eight scores in 2014 and saw his career-high in receptions come all the way back in 2012. He won’t surpass either this year. Not on a depth chart now as crowded as it has been, with Rob Gronkowski, Bennett and undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister all active and contributing versus Denver. But the prop bet over which week No. 83 would get into the stat sheet has concluded.
It’s time to move on. Allen is.
“Again, it’s all about consistency,” he said. “And we got Oakland next week in Mexico City, so I’ll see you guys there.”