- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

When he arrived in Washington in March 2005, David Patten was coming off a season in which he ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per catch and had won his third Super Bowl ring in four years.

But when Patten’s frustrating first season with the Redskins ended seven months later with an ailing right knee, no starting receiver with as many catches (22) had generated as few yards (217). What’s more, Washington, 2-4 in its last six games with Patten, went on a 5-2 tear in the regular season after his exit.

“You always want to make a good first impression,” Patten said. “That didn’t happen. Without a doubt, the fans didn’t see the real D.P. last year. My play began to decline after I hurt my knee in the second week. I tried to suck it up and play through it, but when it gets to a point where it was starting to hurt the team, then you’ve got to say, ‘Coach, put somebody else in there.’”

While stopgaps James Thrash and Taylor Jacobs were those replacements last season, the Redskins acquired legitimate starting receivers Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd on the first weekend of free agency this March. And just like that Patten, who turns 32 in August, went from starter to afterthought.

“That said to me, ‘Maybe D.P. is getting older. Maybe he doesn’t have it anymore. Maybe D.P.’s not the answer,’” Patten said. “I have to prove every day that D.P. still has it. All the so-called experts are counting me out, but the cameras [that tape the ongoing organized team activities] don’t lie. Our coaches know what D.P. is capable of doing.”

While Patten felt helpless in December and January with his post-surgical knee feeling strong and his replacements faltering, he had no beef with the additions of Randle El and Lloyd.

“I appreciated that coach [Joe] Gibbs called me right after they signed those guys,” Patten said. “He told me that this was a way to make our team better, more explosive and that it didn’t affect the way they felt about me. I asked him if he would play the best guy and he said yes. If someone else is better than me, I’ll gladly back up.”

Admirable and realistic. Even if the coaches won’t come out and say so, Redskins owner Dan Snyder didn’t shower millions on Randle El, 26, and Lloyd, 24, for them to be spare parts. And Patten has been through this before, having relinquished his starting job at the start of New England’s playoff run in 2004.

“David doesn’t have a big ego,” receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “There’s a reason why the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years. Their players truly believed that the team comes first. David is looking good [on the field]. He hasn’t lost a step. We’re going to find a way to get David some passes. David will be fine.”

At least Patten’s right knee, which he said was never truly 100 percent after the surgery that ended his 2003 season in October, is fine. However, there aren’t that many backup receivers on the wrong side of 30, especially if, unlike Thrash, they don’t play special teams. Patten’s salary cap number, a relatively affordable $1.848 million for 2006, explodes to $3.013 million next year.

And as terrific as new assistant head coach Al Saunders’ offense was in Kansas City, four Chiefs caught as many as 35 balls just once in four years. With Pro Bowl starter Santana Moss, Randle El and Lloyd ahead of him at receiver and tight end Chris Cooley also a top target, it’s difficult to see Patten getting many balls.

“I really believe we’re going to duplicate the corps we had in New England [with Patten, Deion Branch, Troy Brown and David Givens],” Patten said. “You give a quarterback like Mark Brunell four options like that and he’s going to make things happen. Any receiver wants the ball. He wants to be the man. But putting your personal goals secondary to the team makes you a championship caliber team. If D.P. gets a lot of balls, I’ll embrace it. If D.P. is clearing out underneath or cheering on the sidelines, I’ll embrace that, too. When I signed that contract, I agreed to do what they tell me to do.”

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