Almost all Patriots fans will remember Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns as Tom Brady’s “Return Game.”
That’s when Brady was able to play his first game of the 2016 season after serving a four-game suspension over “Deflategate” (of which Brady has been making the NFL pay for ever since).
But it also marked another key moment in the Patriots season: the Chris Hogan coming out party.
Yes, Hogan already had a touchdown under his belt in Week 1, but with Brady back on the field it didn’t take long to see a relationship built – a long distance relationship, that is.
Brady hit Hogan on two long plays in two different second-quarter drives, a 43-yarder that set up a a first-and-goal, and a 63-yarder that set up another first-and-goal.
Hogan finished the game with a career-high 114 receiving yards, and it turns out those two catches were a sign of things to come. Three games later he caught one for 53 yards against his former team in Buffalo, and four games after that he reeled in his longest of the season – a 79-yard touchdown against the Ravens in the fourth quarter that turned a three-point game into a 10-point game.
Though the 6-foot-1,210-poundHogan had just 38 receptions for the season, he certainly made them count. He finished with 680 yards and four touchdowns, for an average of 17.9 yards per catch, tied for the highest average in the NFL with DeSean Jackson.
Of those 38 receptions, 23 of them were for first downs and 11 of them were for over 20 yards.
One of the very few knocks on Brady is that he struggles with the long ball, but you didn’t see that as much this season.
And on Sunday against the Steelers, the Brady-Hogan connection was stronger than ever. Hogan seemed wide open almost all game, which led to Brady connecting on nine of 12 throws to him for a career-high 180 yards and two touchdowns.
One of those touchdowns was a 34-yardflea-flicker that fooled the entire Pittsburgh Steelers secondary, allowing Hogan a clear path to the end zone.
In two postseason games with the Patriots, Hogan has 13 receptions for 275 yards. Twelve of those receptions have been first downs and eight of them have been for 20-plus yards.
“He’s been incredible,” Brady told reporters of Hogan. “I mean, to lead the league in average yards per catch is spectacular. He’s made big plays for us all season, he made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us.”
Hogan,28,actually played lacrosse – not football – for three seasons at Penn State before graduating and playing one year of football at Monmouth.
After going undrafted, Hogan bounced around on a few NFL rosters – the 49ers, Giants, and Dolphins – before he played his first career game, with the Bills in 2012. After a few successful seasons, Bill Belichick plucked him from Buffalo . . . and now he’s Brady’s biggest deep threat heading into Super Bowl LI.
“Yeah, it’s been a long journey,” Hogan told reporters, “but I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I just couldn’t be happier that I get to be a part of this team, this whole thing.”