New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett runs after catching a pass against the Houston Texans during the second half Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s all about trust with Tom Brady.
If he has trust in you, you’re going to get the ball and have volumes of newsprint written about your accomplishments. If he doesn’t, then you quickly become a footnote in New England Patriots history.
Phillip Dorsett wants Tom Brady’s trust. And if Sunday is any indication, he’s beginning to earn it.
Dorsett, in his second season with the Patriots, caught seven passes (a single-game career high) for 64 yards and a touchdown in New England’s 27-20 opening-game victory over the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium.
Three catches came on the drive that led to his touchdown, a 4-yard pass from Brady with 14 seconds left in the half.
“Phillip did a great job, got some opportunities and then came up with the plays, came up with the catches,” Brady said. “It’s kind of what he’s been doing all camp, all spring, and it was good to see it show up today. We needed it.”
Dorsett, a former first-round draft pick (No. 29 overall in 2015) by the Indianapolis Colts, came to the Patriots in a trade for quarterback Jacoby Brissett last Sept. 2, five days before the 2017 opener.
He never got comfortable in the passing game — which he and others have called complex — and caught 12 passes for 194 yards in 15 games.
So he immersed himself in the offense in the offseason. Though he didn’t work out with Brady, who skipped most offseason workouts, he knew everything he learned would benefit him this year.
“I got here a couple of days before the first game so I didn’t know anything, so it was learn as I go,” Dorsett said. “I learned so much in the offseason, just learning the ins and outs of this offense — how to run this route, how to run that route.
“Honestly it’s just trying to get everything down. This is a tough offense. It’s hard to come in and learn it. But once you put the effort in and the time in, I feel everything works out. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
But to truly earn Brady’s trust, Dorsett had to work with him, which he did extensively in training camp.
“It’s about him having the confidence in his receivers, him wanting (the receivers) to learn a route a certain way and knowing where we’re going to be, how we’re going to run it,” Dorsett said. “That gives him the confidence to make the pass. And us catching it gives him the confidence to keep doing it.”
Dorsett, 5-foot-10, 192 pounds, only has to look at Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The two have played together for nine years now. They know how each other will react.
Gronkowski and Brady also hooked up for seven catches Sunday, for 123 yards and a perfectly timed/thrown 21-yard touchdown pass for New England’s first touchdown of the season. On a third-and-12 play, Gronkowski ran to the left front pylon of the end zone, two Houston defenders on him. Brady threw to his back shoulder and the Texans were helpless to stop the score.
“I know his body language,” Brady said. “I know his ability to run and what routes. He can do it. He can do really all the routes, it’s just a matter of giving him a chance and it came with a big touchdown today.”
“They’re our leaders,” Dorsett said of Brady and Gronkowski. “When they play well, they give an adrenaline boost to the rest of the team.”
But this team needs more than just Brady and Gronkowski, especially while Julian Edelman is sitting out four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Dorsett, 25, understands this completely. Asked if he felt he needed to step up late in the first half, he said, “I felt like that before the game. I knew for us to play well as an offense, we all had to play well — me, (Chris Hogan), Gronk, James (White), all the running backs, obviously Tom. We all feel, in order for us to reach our peak, we all have to play well.”
White, the elusive running back who caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown, was Dorsett’s high school teammate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“He works extremely hard,” White said. “He got here last year after training camp so a lot was kind of thrown at him fast. I think he got better as the year went on. I think he took the challenge this offseason to learn the offense as best he can and just be in the right spots, and win in man (coverage). I think he went out there and showed today that he can be a good player for us.”
Dorsett knows he can’t relax, which is why he continues to push himself.
“I’m still learning. I figure out something new every day,” he said. “This offense is really complex. I’m still learning but I’m like a sponge, soaking it all in.
“I try to learn something every day, try to get better at something every day. That learning curve, it’s a lot, but I’m glad I’m where I’m at today.”