By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Stats. Everybody’s got ’em. Sometimes, they really pop. Other times, they’re just numbers on a page.
One thing stats don’t do is tell a full story. There’s an entire living, breathing human being that had to perform a physical feat in order for that number to stick on that page, you know? And sometimes, with the way life moves these days, the on-field performance can fade away rather quickly.
Case in point: Phillip Dorsett.
There’s certainly nothing overwhelming when you click your little mouse on over to Dorsett’s Pro Football Reference page. He’s 5-foot-10, 192 pounds. Ten career touchdowns in 63 games. A season with 33 catches for 528 yards in 2016 still stands as his best year yet.
You look at that page, and you might think, “OK. Whatever. Big WHOOP. A serviceable NFL receiver. Yippity doo-da.”
First of all, you talk very strange. Secondly, you’re wrong.
Let’s go to the tape!
For this one, we need to rewind the clock only to a few nights ago, when one Mr. Pip Dorsett made a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone. He somehow caught a glimpse of the football despite a defender in his grill, and he managed to blindly pin the ball to his body before adjusting it for full possession, all while tapping his toes and holding on to the football while the 213-pound body of Trumaine Johnson smashed into his head, while the rest of his body crashed into the turf.
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 22, 2019
It was an incredible catch, but with Sam Darnold’s spooky ghost comment, and the Patriots’ four interceptions, and the 33-0 shutout, it was never spoken of again.
For those of us whose athletic careers died slightly short of professional football, a moment like that would serve as our personal Mona Lisa. For Dorsett, though, it was just the latest in what has really been an underrated run of ridiculous touchdown receptions.
He has a career-high four touchdowns this year. That one against New York carried with it by far the highest degree of difficulty.
But if you go back to last year, the touchdown he caught in Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game? That catch was incredible. (Do folks even REMEMBER that catch?)
Dorsett absolutely torched Steven Nelson on a simple out-and-up route, which Dorsett didn’t even run with particular crispness. Nevertheless, Nelson got burned and then CLEARLY interfered with Dorsett in the end zone. Nevertheless, Dorsett simply shook the man off his back and made a catch with his groin for a 29-yard touchdown.
That was a difficult touchdown reception, to say the least.
(The back judge who didn’t call pass interference should have been required to immediately run a lap. At the very least, he must have been EXTREMELY grateful for what happened in New Orleans that day, and also thankful for the fact that nobody in America cares if the Patriots get a raw deal on a call.)
It was huge, too, as it gave New England a 14-0 lead just before halftime in a game where — you’ll recall — every single point mattered.
That touchdown was the second in as many playoff weeks for Dorsett, who had a touchdown grab in the divisional round against the Chargers. When he caught that TD vs. LA, it was the first time in his career that he caught touchdowns in consecutive weeks. The TD in KC made it three straight games with a score. How’s that for timing?
That touchdown in Week 17 vs. the Jets was pretty sweet, too. It was remembered mostly because Brady showed a lot of mobility to escape the pocket and run to his right before delivering a strike to the back of the end zone. But the skill required to snare that ball out of the air and hold on while getting shoved to the ground were overlooked:
Perhaps the degree of difficulty was lower than the others, but it was impressive nonetheless.
That TD in Week 17 was Dorsett’s first touchdown since Week 4, as Brady hardly looked Dorsett’s way during the Josh Gordon era of 2018. Dorsett had 29 targets in the first five games of the year, but he then got just eight targets from Week 6 through Week 16.
That was slightly peculiar, because on that Week 4 touchdown, Dorsett gained separation from Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard before making a somersault touchdown catch.
That was Dorsett’s second touchdown of the year. His first wasn’t physically overwhelming, but it was nevertheless a professional touchdown.
Brady dropping that pass juuuuuust over the reach of Zach Cunningham is simply art.
One throw that was not artistic was in the last game held at Gillette Stadium before that season opener vs. the Texans. In the AFC title game against Jacksonville, Dorsett came up with a massive catch that was not a touchdown but was nevertheless instrumental in the Patriot victory. It came in the fourth quarter, on a flea flicker, when Brady severely underthrew the wide-open Dorsett. It really should have been an incompletion, because Brady’s underthrow forced Dorsett to hit the brakes, which allowed Myles Jack to close the gap and get in the way of the catch being made.
Yet, somehow, on his lone target of the entire game, Dorsett did this:
In totality, after a touchdown-free first season with New England in 2017, Dorsett has now caught nine touchdowns in 27 games (regular/playoff combined). Those nine touchdowns have come on just 80 targets. He’s also caught 69 of the 98 passes thrown in his direction, good for a 70 percent catch rate. Yeah, we’re diving a little too deep on those pesky stats, but that is some reliable productivity right there.
Still, for as impressive as those stats are, the visuals are what really make it all special. He may never finish a season in the top 10 or top 20 in any receiving category, and he may not end up sporting a red coat in Foxboro one day, and that’s all well and good. But when it comes to filling up a highlight reel, you’d have a hard time finding someone better than the man who can now lay claim to being the very best No. 13 in Patriots franchise history. Add that one to your stats page.