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Sunday, December 27, 2009
Baker, Watson emerge from tight spot

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the great mysteries surrounding the New England Patriots' offense in recent weeks was the case of the disappearing tight ends.

Poof! They're back.

One of the underlying storylines from the team's 35-7 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars was the contribution of tight ends Chris Baker and Benjamin Watson. Baker's 26-yard touchdown catch gave the Patriots a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, and Watson's 14-yard first-quarter catch set the team up at the goal line (where Laurence Maroney fumbled).

Chris Baker
Tight end Chris Baker, who had just one catch in the past five games, pulls in a pass from Tom Brady for a 26-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

It wasn't jump-off-the-stats-page production, but for an offense that has been searching for a consistent third option after receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, it's not a stretch to say it was important in the win.

Perhaps the top question about the lack of tight end involvement is how often they are staying in to block on pass plays. Sunday against the Jaguars, Watson (who had just the one catch) was in routes on 14 of 21 pass plays, which included a few quick throws in which he released off the line but wasn't a target. Baker (two catches, 26 yards) was in pass routes for four of the nine pass plays in which he was on the field.

The big play was Baker's touchdown in which both tight ends were running down the left seam together. The plan was for them to have more separation, but the play still worked, as Baker caught the ball over safety Gerald Alexander, who felt he was interfered with.

Baker, who entered the game with 11 receptions on the season, thought he avoided a penalty.

"I didn't extend my hands or anything like that," he said. "I just kind of went up and he was drifting back. He didn't try to knock the ball down, so I just stopped, made my stand and went up for the ball. That's part of the game."

Baker explained that with Moss and Welker on the other side of the field, they took the bulk of the coverage with them. That created an opportunity for both tight ends to have one-on-one coverage.

"I am happy to be involved in the passing game," said Baker, who had caught one pass over the last five games entering Sunday, with his lone touchdown coming Sept. 27 against the Falcons. "I think Tom spread the ball around to a lot of guys today, including the tight ends. So I was happy about that and it was good to make a big play in the game."

As for why the tight ends haven't been more involved as pass catchers in past weeks, Watson said he didn't have the answer. He pointed out that when the ball isn't coming their way, they have to be involved in other ways, such as blocking, and Watson delivered a key block on Moss' first of three touchdown receptions.

"It's never a deal where we go into a game and say, 'I know I'm going to get it' or 'I know I'm not going to get it,'" Watson said. "You just kind of run your route and try to get open, and see where the ball goes. This game, it happened to come to us and I'm happy for that. Now we move on to next week."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.