Brown questionable, Branch doubtful vs. Dolphins

Updated: October 7, 2004, 10:32 PM ET
Associated Press

FOXBORO, Mass. -- When Tom Brady looked downfield last season, his top targets were Deion Branch and Troy Brown. He'll be focusing on other wide receivers Sunday.

Branch is doubtful with a knee injury and Brown questionable with a bad shoulder for the game against the Miami Dolphins that could give the New England Patriots an NFL-record 19th straight win.

And Brady will be facing a strong pass defense.

"I'm not concerned," said the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

That's because he has plenty of other teammates to throw to -- wide receivers David Patten, David Givens and Bethel Johnson and tight ends Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria.

Branch led the Patriots with 57 catches and Brown was third with 40 last season. Kevin Faulk had 48 receptions, mostly on short passes out of the backfield.

This year, the Patriots also have rookie P.K. Sam, a fifth-round draft choice from Florida State, who saw his first NFL action -- he recalls being in for three or four plays -- in last Sunday's 31-17 win at Buffalo.

"It was fun, actually being on that side of the line instead of the sideline," Sam said Thursday.

With so many good receivers already with the Patriots, he's had to be patient after making 50 catches as a junior last year and leaving school with athletic eligibility remaining.

"That's part of the program when you come to a great team like this, so it was expected," Sam said. "I'm just waiting for my time, but everything's cool right now. I'm just learning from the older guys."

Most of the other New England receivers also took a while to develop.

Brown was drafted in the eighth round in 1993 and didn't become a full-time starter until 2000, when he caught 83 passes. Patten, an undrafted free agent out of college, totaled 71 catches in his first four years.

He joined the Patriots in 2001 and had 112 receptions in his first two seasons with them.

Givens, a seventh-rounder in 2002, had nine catches as a rookie but 34 last season and leads the team with 14 this year. He's a big receiver with good hands.

"David is a tremendous player," Brady said. "He just keeps getting better. The more you throw to him, the more reliable he is."

Johnson, a second-round pick, had 16 catches as a rookie last year. He and Sam have to make progress before getting into the regular rotation at wide receiver.

"It was a start," coach Bill Belichick said of Sam's play against Buffalo. "I am sure it will be better. Well, I am not sure. I hope he will be better as he continues to gain experience."

Sam was 21 last February and is one of the NFL's youngest players. He was sidelined for part of training camp and says he's content to wait his turn on a strong team rather than play sooner on a weak one.

"Definitely," he said. "That's why even in college I chose Florida State. Anybody can be in a lesser program."

He'll have a tough time contributing Sunday against Miami's experienced secondary.

"Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison are great cornerbacks," Brady said. "They have two very good safeties, Antuan Edwards and Sammy Knight, who have been very productive."

If the Patriots win, Sam will be part of a team that set an NFL record for consecutive wins. But as a seldom-used young player, the streak might not mean much.

"I wasn't even part of it, so I can't even really comment on it," he said. "I've only been a part of the one game, last Sunday."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press