It is hard to imagine a receiver in the NFL recording 97 catches and having the season regarded as a disappointment, but that is the story of Troy Brown's 2002 season. Brown battled injuries throughout the past season, but finished with an impressive 97 catches for 890 yards. But for a competitor like Brown, the fact that the Patriots have been watching the postseason from afar is much more of a disappointment than can be overcome with individual accomplishments.
Like the rest of his teammates, Brown was extremely disappointed with the way the season turned out, but was also realistic in looking back at the team's missed opportunities.
"We kept fighting the whole year," Brown said just after the season ended. "I give credit to a lot of the guys on the team. We just didn't quite have enough to get it done. We had slumps. We hit one slump, then we had a second slump. You might be able to get by with one slump, but two slumps, you can't really survive that. It took us too long to get out of our slumps when we weren't playing well and that ended up costing us in the end."
And maybe not coincidentally, the Patriots first slump of the season came at the same time as Brown missing action with a knee injury. Brown took a hit on his knee in the Chiefs game in Week 3 and was forced to miss the next two games against the Chargers and Dolphins, both Patriots losses. While Brown returned to the lineup the following week against the Packers, he dealt with the nagging injury for the remainder of the season.
"The individual things mean so little," Brown said of his battling the injury to reach 97 receptions. "But I think it was a good effort, playing hurt most of the year, just sucking it up and playing tough, hard football. That's what you've got to do. Injuries are going to come in football and you've just got to find a way to overcome them and get out there and help your team win."
And without a doubt Brown did help his team win in 2002. Not only did he record the 97 catches in just 14 games, but he led the team in receptions in 10 of the 14 games he played in. The offensive co-captain also recorded his third straight 80-plus-catch season and just missed his second-consecutive 100-catch campaign. The diminutive receiver is also moving his way up the franchises all-time receiving lists, where he currently ranks third in receptions (418) and fifth in yards (4,860).
But in the end those numbers mean very little to the former eighth-round draft pick out of Marshall. Brown got a taste for championship play in 2001 and now uses that as a benchmark for all future play.
"All of the individual things mean little, especially when you are not playing in the playoffs and playing for the big trophy."
So as the Patriots look to 2003 and what changes can be made to get back into postseason play, one answer is right in their own locker room. While there are no guarantees, and injuries are a part of football, a truly healthy Troy Brown for an entire season might just put you over the top.
In case you missed it, the Patriot signed first-year free agent tight end Rodney Trafford late Friday. The 24-year-old Trafford had been out of football in 2002 after a career as a four-year letterman at South Carolina. The 6-3, 250-pound Trafford caught six passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in his career at South Carolina