Through the first two weeks of the season veteran free agent receiver addition Brandon LaFell had exactly zero catches. After being targeted six times in Week 1 with nothing to show for it, Tom Brady never threw his new receiver's way in Week 2 at Minnesota.
Now, though, eight games later, LaFell is a counted-on option in the Patriots passing attack that's paced the team to a six-game winning streak and positioning as the favorite for the top playoff seed in the AFC.
LaFell ranks third on New England with 39 catches and 576 yards. He trails only Rob Gronkowski with his five touchdown receptions.
In Sunday's big road win over the upstart Colts in Indianapolis LaFell had a simple three catches for 62 yards. But on a day when Jonas Gray's 199 yards and four touchdowns told the story of the victory, and Gronkowski's catch-and-run touchdown physically closed the door on the home team, LaFell made a key grab that kept the chains moving and subtly helped the Patriots to victory.
Midway through the third quarter the Adam Vinatieri hit a 53-yard field goal to pull the home team to within one score at 21-13.
Following the ensuing kickoff New England took over at its 20. Brady threw incomplete toward Julian Edelman before Gray picked up 4 yards off left tackle to leave a third-and-6 from the Colts 24 with 7:49 to play.
Were the Patriots to fail to get the ensuing third down try against the best third down defense in football, Indy would probably have taken over with solid field position after the punt. An Andrew Luck-led attack that had scored on consecutive possessions might feel some momentum shift. A drive to another score could either tie or tighten up the game.
But Brady and LaFell made sure that would not be the case. Brady threw for his big-bodied outside receiver down the left sideline to beat old friend Darius Butler for the 26-yard completion.
Seven plays later, Gray was in the end zone again to give the Patriots the 28-13 lead on the way to the team's best road victory in a while.
On the key play in question LaFell lined as the inside man, off the line, in a trips formation to Brady's left.
Butler was lined up over the middle of the three-man, wish-bone type set, over the on-the-line receiver in the formation, Danny Amendola. At the snap, LaFell quickly cut left in front of Edelman, and then down the left sideline with Butler close behind.
Brady threw a back-shoulder pass, something he and LaFell have done a lot of lately. The ball was a little low and the big receiver reached back and made a nice catch as he fell to the turf for the big gain.
The drive continued. The lead over the Colts grew. And the Patriots went on to the 42-20 victory.
There were plenty of contributions in the victory. Gray and the New England offensive line deserve all the praise they are getting. Gronkowski was a beast in his limited receptions and impressive blocking. Darrelle Revis was once again a force in coverage.
But LaFell, whose role has grown immensely in the last two months as he's acclimated himself to Brady and the New England offense, made a key play that might fly under the radar.
It's one of the many small plays that end up being big for a winning team.
It's just the kind of play that makes the perfect subject for recognition on Take Two-sday!