Smiling as he stood a few steps in front of ‘Tight End Row’ in the Patriots locker room late Sunday afternoon, Pharaoh Brown was in the holiday spirit.
Hours earlier, an unknown benefactor had gifted t-shirts to Brown and the teammates who share his position and dress each day at neighboring stalls between blocks of offensive linemen and running backs. Before heading to the field around 11 a.m., Brown took the tee, sheered its black sleeves where the shoulder seams met the arm holes to better show off his biceps and triceps, donned it, pairing it with his team-issue navy blue shorts, and headed for the field.
Scripted across his chest were words commemorating an occasion: “National Tight Ends Day.” Printed below, at Brown’s midsection, beneath an icon of a player in the act of spiking and a football, was the line: “The Tight End Way.”
That way, after Brown, Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki had changed into their silver-and-blue game uniforms for a matchup with the Bills, entailed six catches — two apiece — including the game-winner with 12 seconds left in the Pats’ 29-25 triumph. Gesicki, reaching up over Buffalo’s Taron Johnson, grabbed Mac Jones’s 25th completion right of the goal post and kicked off the celebration with his quarterback doing an end zone Griddy.
“It’s more than perfect that (Mike) scored it,” Brown said of the decisive play, which resembled a similar last-half-minute score by Gesicki four years ago in Foxborough as a Miami Dolphin. “We need to have ‘National Tight Ends Day,’ every day.
“Let’s just have more Father’s Days, more Christmases, every day, more birthdays, every day. More National Tight Ends Days, every day.”
If it seems Brown got carried away, consider what he went through to get here.
As an Oregon junior on Nov. 8, 2014, he sprung off the line to block for a touchdown by Marcus Mariota at Utah. After stepping on a teammate’s foot, Brown collapsed into the end zone; his right leg buckling too gruesomely for his fall to be replayed on the ESPN telecast.
Carted off the field with two torn ligaments, Brown was also suffering internal bleeding. A stretched artery had cut off blood flow to his shin. He was rushed into emergency surgery at the University of Utah Hospital to avoid amputation.
Two surgeries in Brown’s hometown of Cleveland and months rehabbing back on campus in Eugene alongside his Yorkie puppy “Tiger” filled the next year and a half. Finally, in the spring of 2016, Brown was cleared for football practice. He resumed his career with the Ducks in the fall.
Signed initially by Oakland, his NFL career has since wound through Cleveland, Houston, Cleveland again and Indianapolis. Released by the Colts in August, he was picked up by New England on the recommendation of his ex-Texans coaches and current Pats assistants Bill O’Brien and Will Lawing.
So, yeah, every day in the NFL is like a personal holiday.
For the record, Brown’s next birthday is May 4, 2024. This Christmas morning, he expects to be returning from a visit to Denver. And Father’s Day for the dad to Titus and Cairo — with wife Celestina — won’t come around again until the third Sunday of next June.
Just like everyone else, Brown gets one of those special days a year. But as far as this Patriots’ season goes, winning Sundays have been this tight end’s days to shine.
At New York in Week 3, he scored their lone touchdown in a 15-10 win over the Jets. Against Buffalo, his two receptions went for 25 and 26 yards. A third, worth 22 yards, was negated by penalty.
His first catch on the game’s opening series helped the Pats to their first lead in more than a dozen quarters. His other reception jump-started an early fourth-quarter drive en route to a two-score advantage.
Ahead 16-10 with 13:43 left, Brown joined Gesicki in the offensive huddle immediately after a failed fourth-down try by the Bills. Hearing Jones’s voice, the two tight ends looked to one another.
“(Mac) called that play and Mike actually looked at me and gave me the eyes, and I gave him the eyes,” Brown recounted. “Basically on that play, me and him are both going vertically, so the (defender) has to choose which one he’s going to cover.”
The ball was set between the right hash marks of New England’s 34- and 33-yard lines. Brown, hands on knees, squatted tight to the outside shoulder of right tackle Mike Onwenu. Standing to their right, Gesicki lined up level with the ball.
Off the snap, Buffalo cornerback Christian Benford followed Gesicki on an out-and-up along the right sideline. Brown, ducked around defensive end Shaq Lawson and was met up the right seam at the 40-yard line by Terrel Bernard.
To that point, at least to Brown’s ears, Bernard, a linebacker, hadn’t shown much respect to the tight end on this football holiday.
“The linebacker, he was talking a bunch of junk all day,” Brown said. “He was on me man-to-man and I just knew I was going to beat him.”
As Brown did just that, Jones laid a deft lob over Bernard’s outside shoulder and the nameplate on his back. The ball fell perfectly into Brown’s hands as he swung his hips and shoulders around, caught it and continued up the right sideline.
Taking a shoulder to the sternum from safety Jordan Poyer, Brown went down at the Bills’ 40. Benford pulled at the ball, finally prying it loose. His effort was futile. The play was over. Eight snaps later, Kendrick Bourne scored to make it, 22-10.
Of course, Buffalo came back, abetted by Bourne’s fumble, before Jones’s more than pitch-perfect toss to Gesicki that allowed Brown to celebrate a win to go with his holiday swag.
“Thanks to whoever put that (t-shirt) in our locker,” he said, beaming. “Great design, too.”