Commentary

Redemption for Watson

Much-maligned tight end has his moment in the sun

Updated: September 15, 2009, 8:29 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the Patriots needed a clutch reception to cap off their dramatic comeback Monday night, they turned to one of their most maligned players -- Ben Watson, who responded with what might have been the finest moment of his NFL career.

His responsibilities were straightforward. Lined up to the right side of the formation, he was to run a post pattern down the middle, read the coverage, and hopefully find an opening. At the very least, he could occupy the safety and create more space for someone else to make a play.

As Watson sprinted toward the end zone, he saw split-safety coverage, the spacing of the safeties particularly wide, leaving a wide swath of real estate in which to operate. Situations like those dictate a tight end must rise to the occasion.

[+] EnlargeBen Watson
Stew Milne/US PresswireBen Watson was an afterthought in the preseason, but played a starring role in the Patriots' season-opening comeback victory.

Watson did, and it couldn't have come at a more important time. There were 55 seconds remaining when quarterback Tom Brady gathered in the shotgun snap, the Patriots trailing the Bills 24-19 but riding the momentum of an unexpected fumble recovery on a kickoff return.

With linebacker Keith Ellison in tight coverage into the end zone, Watson turned at the precise moment that Brady delivered a beautiful throw to his back shoulder, maintained concentration and secured possession as he crashed to the turf.

"I told him it was the best catch I've ever seen him make," Brady said.

The timing between Brady and Watson was perfect on the 16-yard score.

"He made a great throw, where the defender couldn't see it," Watson said. "Only I had a chance at it."

Just a few weeks ago, some weren't giving Watson -- a 2004 first-round draft choice who has not always met expectations -- a chance at making the final 53-man roster.

He had played throughout the team's fourth preseason game Sept. 3 with many of the team's soon-to-be-unemployed players, which appeared to be an ominous sign. His pride had to be dented, his spot atop the depth chart snared by free-agent signee Chris Baker.

As reporters crowded around Watson after Monday night's victory, this was what they wanted to discuss -- Watson's rags-to-riches-type story, the high draft choice on the verge of being cut before springing back to life.

It was easy to see that he wasn't excited about the topic. As polite as they come, Watson cut off one questioner who might have been digging a bit deeper than he wanted to go.

"You don't get on the roller coaster with what people are saying because you'll drive yourself crazy," he said.

Yet Watson's big role Monday night -- six catches, 77 yards, two touchdowns -- wasn't lost on one of his teammates.

"He was written off. He was forgotten, [but] he got better as a football player instead of getting down on himself," running back Kevin Faulk said. "I was so excited for him. He knew that people had written him off, said he was going to be cut and not be a part of this team anymore, and then he does what he did tonight."

Known more for sprinting across the football field to chase down Champ Bailey in the playoffs, Watson has delivered some dramatic catches in the past. Brady recalled another Watson touchdown catch that stood out to him -- against the Bills in 2007.

But based on the situation Monday night, Watson's 16-yarder topped the charts.

"You just never know how stuff is going to go," Watson said. "One thing I've learned about this team is that anybody could be making those plays on any given Sunday or Monday."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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