FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – It had been a year since Benjamin Watson caught a pass in a real NFL game, almost long enough for him to forget the feeling of holding the ball in his hands.

“Catching a ball is an emotional thing,” the New England Patriots tight end said Friday, a day after making two receptions for the Super Bowl champions in a 30-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders. “It’s what you work all those days in practice for.”

Watson was the last pick in the first round of the 2004 draft, but he held out for 18 days and then played just one game last year before missing the rest of the season on injured reserve with a knee injury. There was little for him to do as his teammates won their third Super Bowl in four years.

“It’s tough to not be able to do what you like to do,” he said. “You can offer encouragement, but everybody knows we’re not here to offer encouragement. We’re here to win football games.”

Watson returned this year with a year of NFL service but a feeling like he was still a rookie – “kind of like a redshirt rookie,” he said.

If he can avoid another injury, Watson will get a chance to make more of a contribution this year. With Daniel Graham lined up at the opposite tight end, the Patriots have two players who can catch the ball down the field – or at least make the defense worry that they might.

“Ben can run. He’s not a receiver, but he has that receiver type of ability for a tight end,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s obviously a big target. That’s always something that the quarterback likes, is a tall guy that has a good reach and is just a big target to throw to.”

Watson had a pair of third-down catches on the Patriots’ first scoring drive Thursday night to help set up Adam Vinatieri’s field goal. He didn’t catch another pass the rest of the game as the Raiders adjusted and Tom Brady used eight different receivers to complete 24 of 38 passes.

“We’ve got a lot of places to spread the ball around,” Watson said.

So did Georgia when Watson played there. In an offense that didn’t usually throw to the tight end, he had 65 catches for 852 yards and six touchdowns in three years.

He said he envied Graham, who went to Colorado and caught 106 passes. “They threw the ball to him all the time in college,” Watson said.

Watson played receiver as a child until it became obvious that he was going to have to give it up. Still, the 6-foot-4, 253-pounder retained the soft hands and even some of the speed that makes him a threat.

“I always wanted to play receiver, but then I kept growing,” he said.

Does he have the speed to keep up with the receivers?

“I’m all right,” he said, “but I don’t think I can hang outside with them.”

AP-ES-09-09-05 1759EDT


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