Few rookies are fortunate enough to experience the post-Super Bowl victory side of Bill Belichick. It’s a brief moment somewhere between “Do your job” and “No days off.” But Malcolm Mitchell has seen it.
The wide receiver out of Georgia is among the few.
“He smiled at least for 10 minutes straight,” Mitchell said of his head coach Friday while appearing on NFL Network’s Total Access. “And he gave me a hug. I got a hug. I think that’s the first time we ever touched each other.”
The hug was well-deserved for Mitchell, a fourth-round pick last April who caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, before being ruled out for the divisional round and returning to catch one pass for five yards in the AFC Championship Game.
Against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, he reeled in six for 70 yards.
Only one of those catches transpired in the first half of action. Mitchell garnered just two targets over the initial two quarters at NRG Stadium as the New England Patriots headed into the tunnel down by a score of 21-3.
The intermission that followed would be a long one. There were no long faces from the veterans, however. Mitchell, one of six Patriots rookies active for the game, remembers the mood well.
“Being a rookie, I look around the locker room and I look at the leaders,” the 24-year-old said. “Nobody had their head down. Nobody looked like we were defeated. And everybody knew that we hadn’t given it our best shot just yet. We were determined to make sure that when we stepped back on the field, we were going to give it all we had. The Patriot way.”
Mitchell wouldn’t touch the ball in the third quarter, when Atlanta’s lead swelled to 25 before it was trimmed to 19. Quarterback Tom Brady turned to him a total of five times in the fourth, though, with three passes arriving on one drive alone.
Each resulted in a completion.
There was a comeback for 15 yards, a drag for seven, a slant for 18, another comeback for 12, and then another comeback for 11 yards that saw Mitchell fall to his knees before regaining his footing for a first down.
The frequency of those comeback patterns would be fitting, of course. By the time it was all over in Houston, the Patriots had engineered the largest in Super Bowl history, scoring 31 answered on the way to a 34-28 victory in overtime.
Alongside the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and James White in New England’s passing attack, Mitchell’s plays wouldn’t be highlights in the triumph. But his acclimation would be on display. It has been over the past 10 months. And with his 638 snaps from the opener through the finale came trust and an impending ring – as well as that hug from Belichick.
He couldn’t have drawn it up any better.
“Coming in, my main focus was just to make the team,” Mitchell said. “You know, no opportunity is concrete. No situation is promised. And from the time I walked into training camp, I worked as hard as I could not knowing the outcome, but knowing I wanted to be ready just in case anything came.”