As with so many other members of the early 2000s Patriots dynasty, Patten represented hard work, dedication, and making the most of every opportunity you’re given. Undrafted in 1996, Patten initially signed with the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League before joining the New York Giants and the Cleveland before signing with New England in 2001. He would start in 14 games that season, netting 51 receptions for 749 yards and four touchdowns, including a Week 6 game against the Indianapolis Colts in which Patten came in for the injured Terry Glenn. All he did in that game was take a double reverse 30 yards to the house, catch a 91-yard TD reception (a Patriots record until 2011 when Wes Welker took one 99 yards against the Miami Dolphins), and throw a 60-yard bomb to Troy Brown for another score. If you watch the play here, you might see a slight resemblance to another Patriots play that will go down in history. He became the first player since Walter Payton, 22 years prior, to run, catch, and throw a TD pass in the same game. Patten grabbed his shot with both hands and never let go. He engrained himself as one of young upstart Tom Brady’s favorite receivers in that 38-17 rout and would become an essential part of a team that made the most unlikeliest of championship runs.
Looking back at that last sentence, “essential” isn’t even close to the right word. He was indefatigably, unequivocally, completely, and incomprehensibly crucial. CRUCIAL. He made play after play after play that may not have the immediate significance of some of the other elements of that season ... but if you want to make the case that David Patten should be on the bronze medal stand of the Players That Launched a Dynasty Olympics next to Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri, you have yourself a very strong argument. I can’t remember all of them, but I very distinctly remember him catching a fourth-down pass, on his knees, in the blinding snow of the Tuck Rule Game to keep a drive alive. He had eight catches for 107 yards in that game, for the record. New England loses to the Oakland Raiders without him, full stop.
You also might remember a catch he brought in in the end zone of Super Bowl 36, laying out and landing hard on his back as he brought the ball in, for Tom Brady’s only touchdown pass of that game. Brady holds an NFL record with the 20 additional TD passes he has completed since then, but I imagine that eight yard out to Patten stands out distinctly in his head. It wasn’t the best throw; Patten had to adjust in mid-air, find the ball, make the grab in excellent coverage, and still find a way to come down inbounds while avoiding injury. He did it, the Patriots took the lead, and the course of NFL history continued on it’s remarkable path.
There are a number of Patriots moments that are permanently etched into my consciousness over the course of my 35-year career as a fan, and that touchdown catch, the way I felt as the replay showed Patten was able to get a foot and an arm down before he crashed to the turf, stands out as fiercely and brightly as any of them. David Patten was the man during that 2001 season.
But he wasn’t just a one-season wonder. Patten led the 2002 Patriots receivers with a 13.5-yard average on his way to a 61-reception, 824-yard, five-TD season. He followed an injury-riddled 2003 season with a return to form in 2004 with an 800-yard, seven-TD season as the Patriots took their third Super Bowl.
Patten would play for Washington, New Orleans, and Cleveland before returning to the Patriots during the 2010 offseason, but would retire — a Patriot, as it should be — before the season started. After football, he returned to his alma mater, Western Carolina University, to pursue a degree in social work and help coach the team that launched his career. But he’ll always be remembered for his contributions in New England, his clutch play, his early emergence as Brady’s go-to receiver, and by all accounts, a phenomenal teammate.
Here’s a nice compilation of every single David Patten touchdown as a Patriot. I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up a bit watching that video; for me at least, nothing is ever going to compare to that 2001 season. And David Patten was just such a massive part of that run. My hope is that he’s now at peace and that he now knows just how much we loved him up here in New England.
RIP, David Patten.
I invite any and all of you to share some of your favorite Patten moments in the comments below. As I said, there are just too many of them, and I don’t remember them all.