by Chris Warner
Coach Bill Belichick has said that if you only do one thing on his team, you’d better do it well. Over his 15 years in Foxboro, Troy Brown did plenty of things well, helping his team evolve from the early-90’s ooze to the upright level of today.
Everyone who follows New England’s football team has his or her favorite Troy Brown play. Over the course of 192 games, playing offense, defense and special teams, there’s been ample opportunity to admire Troy (you’ll excuse me if I feel compelled to call him by his first name).
Hence, in no particular order, a brief rundown of favorites. Many of them can be seen on the Patriots website in the “Troy Brown Retires” video.
Best High School Play
Fake Field Goal vs. Rams, November 7, 2004 – Jogging away from his teammates toward the sideline, Troy dropped out of the Ram’s radar long enough to walk into the end zone and gather in a four-yard touchdown pass from Adam Vinatieri halfway through the third quarter. The score stretched a 19-13 lead to 26-13. Also worth mentioning about this game: Troy played defensive back after Asante Samuel went out with an injury (There was an Earthwind Moreland appearance… remind me how they went 14-2 again?). Troy’s stat line included three receptions (30 yards), three tackles, one broken-up pass.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense, or Vice-Versa Play
Interception vs. Cincinnati, December 12, 2004 – Troy stepped in front of Chad Johnson to pick off a Jon Kitna pass in the end zone, preserving a two-TD lead early in the fourth. This play confirmed that Troy’s time in the defensive backfield was more than a desperate measure; the man could do the job. New England eked out a 35-28 final, which meant that Troy’s pick probably prevented overtime. Troy’s line: Two receptions (27 yards), two tackles, one interception.
The “Wait … What?” Play
Cirque du Soleil catch vs. Giants, December 21, 1996 – Twelve years later, we’re still talking about it. The Pats needed to win the season finale against the Giants, and they had Troy to thank afterward. The basic stats will tell you that he caught a 13-yard pass from Drew Bledsoe on third-and-13, keeping a drive alive that led to the game-winning touchdown in a come-from-behind, 23-22 victory (the Pats scored 20 in the fourth). The win got New England the AFC East title and a first-round playoff bye. Beyond the basics, Troy managed to dive while lying on his back, seeming to grow a few inches as he snared the ball. You can see that play (and a few others) here.
The Walkoff Home Run Play
Overtime catch vs Miami, October 19, 2003 – Miami always seems to play New England tough (as if last week wasn’t a reminder). The Patriots had escaped near-certain doom after Dolphin kicker Olindo Mare suffered an uncharacteristic field goal miss in overtime. It looked like the Patriots would move the ball down the field in one of their typical, methodical drives, getting within field goal range to steal a win in Miami. Or not. Brady dropped back, looked for an open receiver, dropped back a little more (seriously, he had enough time for a cell phone call to Tara Reid), and javelined the ball to a sprinting Troy, who gathered it in and eluded a diving tackle for 82 yards of game-ending glory. Oh, yeah: six receptions, 131 yards, one humongous TD.
The “His Name Rhymes with First Down” Play
Fourth down catch vs. Tennessee, AFC Divisional playoffs, January 10, 2004 – The scrappy Titans had tied it at 14. New England had fourth down on Tennessee’s 33 with 5:14 left in the game. With three yards needed, Troy got four on an out pattern. New England would gain only two more yards on a Kevin Faulk run, setting up Vinatieri’s pitching-wedge-to-a-cantaloupe 46-yard kick that squeezed over the crossbar. The defense (and the frigid cold) held on to win, 17-14.
The Lazarus Play
The strip vs. San Diego, AFC Divisional playoffs, January 14, 2007 – The game had ended. The visiting Patriots had taken advantage of Charger penalties and mistakes to keep it a close contest, but all that effort seemed for naught as Marlon McCree intercepted Tom Brady’s fourth down pass. The Pats trailed 21-13 with under seven minutes left. McCree could have knocked the ball down. Once he made the interception, he could have taken a knee, or even tripped and fallen. The way San Diego ran the ball that day (4.5 yards per carry), the game would have been over, along with New England’s season. But for some reason, McCree tried to make unnecessary yardage, staying on his feet long enough for Troy to make an instant conversion to defensive back and strip the ball. Reche Caldwell recovered the fumble. The visitors gained nine yards on the play. Watching this (over and over) again, Troy doesn’t bother with a tackle attempt; his hand goes straight the football.
Most-Special Special Teams Plays (it’s a Troy Two-fer!)
Punt return, block kick recovery/lateral vs. Pittburgh, AFC Championship, January 27, 2002 – Steelers punter Josh Miller (remember him?) knew to avoid kicking to Troy. With four minutes left in the first quarter, Miller had just boomed the ball 64 yards out of bounds, but gunner Troy Edwards had gotten himself an illegal procedure penalty by running outside the lines. The re-boot didn’t go quite as well: our man Troy caught it, shot up the middle, slipped a tackle and burst through another on his way to a 55-yard touchdown that gave the visiting upstarts a 7-0 lead.
In the third, Steelers kicker Kris Brown lined up for a gimme 34-yarder that would have cut Pittsburgh’s 14-3 deficit to eight. Pats tackle Brandon Mitchell (with pushes from Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson) plowed through the line and blocked the kick. Good on its own, but Troy made the play extra special with a running pickup of the loose ball (the next time you’re playing around in the backyard, give this an attempt, and please don’t hurt yourself). Eleven yards down the field the kicker had a handful of his jersey, so Troy tossed a lateral to Antwan Harris. Forty-nine yards later, the Patriots were up 21-3. Also of note: Troy caught eight passes for 121 yards in New England’s 24-17 win.
I just noticed something. Pittsburgh gunner = a guy named Troy. Pittsburgh kicker = a guy named Brown. They were doomed from the start and they didn’t even know it.
The “Seriously, Dude, We Can Win This Thing!” Play
Catch across the middle vs. Rams, Super Bowl XXXVI, February 3, 2002 – With 29 seconds left, from New England’s 41, Troy found an open area vs. St. Louis’ soft zone and cut to the outside. He hauled in Brady’s pass, gained ground, and – 23 yards later – slid out of Adam Archuleta’s grasp to get out of bounds at the Rams’ 36 and stop the clock. Jermaine Wiggins’ ensuing six-yarder and Brady’s spike set up Vinatieri’s heroics and Gil Santos’ heartwarming radio call. On the day, Troy caught six passes for 89 yards. To relive the last 30 seconds of that game, lookee here.
The “Dude,We’re Totally Gonna Win This Thing Again!” Play
Super Bowl XXXVIII vs. Panthers, February 1, 2004 – A defensive standoff had turned into an offensive free-for-all. Whoever scored last would come out on top. Troy began the game-winning drive with a 13-yard catch. A mildly egregious pass interference call on Troy (so sue me, I’m biased) negated his 20-yard reception and seemed to detract from New England’s momentum. Brady, who knows a good thing when he sees it, returned to his security blanket on 1st and 20. Despite wearing a defensive back, Troy snagged the 13-yard pass to get New England to the Panthers’ 44 with less than 40 seconds left. Brady then hooked up with Daniel Graham and Deion Branch to get Vinatieri into field goal position. Brian Kinchen snapped to Ken Walter, and all was good in New England. Again.
Troy had eight catches that game, his last helping the team overcome a setback and keep them in contention. The Patriots always seemed to do that: put the negative behind them and stay close. If the dynasty was a machine of consistency, Troy Brown worked as an essential cog. Troy will be missed. He already is.