Damiere Byrd caught his first NFL touchdowns beyond the preseason on Dec. 17, 2017.
The former undrafted arrival out of South Carolina did so at Bank of America Stadium as a member of the Carolina Panthers. And he did so by way of quarterback Cam Newton.
A current New England Patriots teammate.
“Damiere Byrd,” Newton said in his postgame press conference that afternoon. “’Lil Bud,’ he was great. He made the most of each and every opportunity that he got.”
It took a challenge on Byrd’s initial visit to the end zone. At the 7:28 mark in the third quarter versus the Green Bay Packers, he went in motion to the left side of the formation and stuttered his feet. A post pattern followed as Byrd, who had spent a pair of seasons between Carolina’s practice squad and active roster, turned his back to the uprights and looked back at Newton.
Packers defensive backs Josh Hawkins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix closed in.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound wide receiver elevated in between them.
A catch and release. Then a catch again. Byrd clapped his gloves around the football and landed tail-first on the natural grass, somersaulting out of bounds. And out of bounds it was ruled as an incomplete pass.
Then-Panthers head coach Ron Rivera deliberated and threw the red flag despite the pleading of veteran tight end Greg Olsen.
“’He did not catch it!’” Newton paraphrased Olsen’s words in the huddle. “’He didn’t catch it! Don’t waste a timeout. Coach, no!’”
The replay angles left much to interpretation. A milestone for Byrd, who signed with the Patriots as free agency opened this spring, depended on the color of the paint he sat on.
“It’s a close, close play,” Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira said on the broadcast. “But to me, one cheek doesn’t equal two feet necessarily. I think I’d probably leave it standing.”
Upon review, it wasn’t left standing. It was determined that No. 18 was down by contact in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I guess it pays to have little cheeks,” Newton reflected. “You know what I’m saying?”
The Panthers would go on to defeat the Packers by a score of 31-24. Byrd would go on to connect with Newton for a score once more, planting his outside foot and breaking to the middle uncontested from 13 yards out.
It marked Byrd’s eighth career game since entering the league in 2015.
His ninth game was a matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It saw him earn NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after setting a franchise record with a 103-yard kickoff return.
“He’s given us that spark that we do need,” Newton told reporters afterward. “He has big-play potential.”
Byrd suffered a leg injury in the victory over Tampa Bay. It sent him back to injured reserve, where he’d been earlier in 2017 due to a broken arm.
Byrd checked into eight games the next year. Those games included one catch and 11 punt returns. Yet a broken arm again brought Byrd to IR. And it brought his run with the Panthers to an end.
His second run with Newton is ahead.