FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Chris Hogan’s perspective on football was shaped in the early years of his professional career when he bounced from team to team, just hoping to stick on a roster, and that’s what he is leaning heavily on as he attacks a new challenge in his career.
In the past two games, he has played 107 snaps, has been targeted just three times and doesn’t have a catch. That’s a lot of plays to come up empty on the stat sheet.
Hogan said he feels great physically. As for mentally …
“I always go back to who I am as a player, and what got me into the league. It wasn’t by demanding the ball or anything,” he said Monday in a quiet moment inside the team’s locker room. “It was about doing what’s best for the team, doing my job the best I can, showing up on film and making the plays when they come my way during games. That’s what I focus on every single week.”
But the plays haven’t been coming his way, even when he’s open, as quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged on a critical fourth-down situation in Tennessee when Hogan ran a terrific route down the right sideline and cleanly beat cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Coach Bill Belichick regularly stresses that the Patriots don’t pre-determine which receiver will catch the ball before the snap (unless it’s a screen play), so Hogan’s lack of action is a result of multiple factors, including defensive coverage, Brady’s decision-making process and Hogan’s ability to get open.
Belichick lauded Hogan as one of the team’s hardest workers on Monday, adding, “He’s got good stamina, can practice and go all day.”
“We have a lot of confidence in Chris and our entire offense,” he said.
Brady, who targeted Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman 12 times apiece in the team’s last game, has echoed that point as it relates to Hogan’s recent lack of production. After all, it was only a month ago that Hogan had a season-high six catches for 63 yards in a win over Chicago.
“The competitor in me wants to make those plays in the game and get those opportunities, but at the end of the day, obviously, if my teammates are out there making plays, that’s all I care about. Winning football games is why we’re in this business,” Hogan said. “For me, it really just comes down to doing my job and making sure I’m not getting covered. If you turn on the tape and I’m getting covered, then what are we talking about?”
So Hogan is staying upbeat.
“Can’t get discouraged. That’s not the right mindset to be in,” he relayed. “If you’re going day by day, and you’re discouraged, that’s going to affect your preparation, your mentality in practice, and that can’t be your mindset — especially at this time of year. This is an important time of year for every football team in the league, especially us with all the AFC East games coming up.”
As for what the Patriots have already been through — a 10-game stretch that has them well-positioned among the AFC’s top contenders — Hogan’s contributions have been a mixed bag.
He was a top-two option in the first quarter of the year, mainly as a result of Edelman’s serving a four-game suspension, and was limited to eight receptions over that span.
But when Edelman returned, and Josh Gordon’s acclimation process shifted into a higher gear with more playing time, Hogan’s contributions spiked with 15 catches for 224 yards over the next four games.
Then came the slide over the past two games.
“This game is ups and downs. It’s ebb and flow. It’s never going to be high the entire time. It’s never going to be low for the entire season,” he said. “That’s part of being a professional and dealing with the opportunities you get throughout the year. For me, I haven’t had many opportunities the last couple weeks, but that doesn’t mean that the following weeks, and the rest of the season, it won’t be different.
“I think that’s the way this league and this game can be. We’re not a team that really features anybody. We have a lot of guys on this team that are capable of getting open and getting the ball and making a lot of plays with their hands. There’s a dilemma there, I guess. Who do you want to get the ball to? I think that’s a great problem to have.”
And as it relates to his own career, that’s the type of high-class “problem” he would have only dreamed of having in his early years.
“I always try to go back not taking anything for granted. You never take a single day in this league for granted because it can be over in a second,” he said. “Putting on my hard hat every day is what got me in the league, and how I’ve been able to last is my work ethic and how hard I work throughout the week and year. Going out on Sundays is what you work for. That’s exciting for me.”