By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have repeated a simple message to the rest of the NFL again and again throughout the second life of a dynasty that's nearly spanned an absolutely unfathomable 20 years: "Still here."
It's been easy to point towards the 42-year-old Tom Brady as the poster child for that motto. Rob Gronkowski, whose availability and effectiveness had been limited by injuries towards the end of his career prior to his retirement in March, also fit the bill. You could even argue that the motto connected with some of New England's older veterans on defense.
But that motto has seemingly become the unspoken rally cry for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who has continued to shine despite roster maneuvering that has seemed designed to bump him into a lesser role.
Last year, it was Josh Gordon who stepped in as New England's No. 2 wideout, bumping Dorsett down the depth chart. Brady fed the troubled Brown-turned-Patriot 40 balls for over 700 yards before a suspension shelved Gordon for the remainder of the season and all of the postseason. But Dorsett was still there, and responded to the Gordon addition by hauling in 20 of the next 23 targets that came his way following Gordon's activation. Dorsett also made his postseason count, too, with five catches, 70 yards, and two touchdowns in the two wins that pushed the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
Then the summer saw the Patriots once again bring in some competition for Dorsett's snaps in the form of veteran Demaryius Thomas. And now Antonio Brown, who's going to eat up targets left and right, is a Patriot.
That didn't stop Dorsett from doing his thing in a Week 1 beatdown of the Steelers, as Dorsett hauled in all four targets thrown his way for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 58-yard bomb from Brady. In fact, with that effort, Dorsett remained in the midst of a 20-straight (regular season) catch stretch dating back to Oct. 4, 2018.
He's also emerged as a "Mr. Dependable" for Brady.
"Phil’s smart, dependable, consistent, tough, continued to take advantage of his opportunity and he’s done a great job for us," Brady said. "He plays a lot of different spots. He was out there all training camp and came up with two huge plays tonight. So, it was great getting him the ball, seeing him score like that, and you can’t forget about him because he can run through the defense and make a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We’ll just keep spreading it around."
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 9, 2019
"[Dorsett] can definitely stretch the field and we've seen him make those big plays before," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We've seen it in practice. He had some big catches for us and, again, that opened up some other things offensively as well. Tom [Brady] did a great job, solid coverage, hit him. I mean, sometimes those are the toughest throws for a quarterback when a guy is wide open running down the middle of the field, but he put it right on him.
"Phil's done a good job for us, been out there every day. He's a tough kid that's been very dependable. Smart, plays all the positions and has come through for us in a lot of big games."
The keywords there are obvious: Dependable, smart, and tough.
Consider the sources and it's basically the highest praise a player can receive. It's also the exact thing this Patriot offense needs right now. While it's easy to fall in love with what was a straight-up dominating display over the Steelers on Sunday (I think everybody rightfully drools when they think of what Brown can add to this team), the Patriots are hitching their air attack wagon to undeniable uncertainty after Edelman (33 years old and coming off a bum thumb); Gordon is still trying to beat his demons and prove that he can live a sober lifestyle that keeps him on the field for a full season, Thomas is coming off a major Achilles injury and was inactive in Week 1 (he was limited with a hamstring injury throughout the week leading up to the game), and Brown is... well... I don't need to explain that to you.
In the what-you-would-like-to-consider-unlikely event that everything goes to hell with those options, the Patriots could be in danger.
But with those aforementioned traits and that confidence in Dorsett from some of New England's best, there's one thing the Patriots can bank on: If that happens, No. 13 will be the first to let you know that he's still here.