On their second play from scrimmage last Sunday, Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, hooked up with James Develin, an undrafted second-year ex-Ivy Leaguer who had never clutched an NFL pass.
For the Patriots’ initial touchdown, Brady connected with Matthew Mulligan, on his fourth team in five undistinguished seasons.
It was Mulligan’s first touchdown ever and upped his career yardage count to 23.
A subsequent touchdown was caught by undrafted rookie Kembrell Thompkins.
Completions also went to unheralded rookies Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson, along with undrafted second-year man Brandon Bolden.
Among Brady’s other potential targets in the win over the Atlanta Falcons were undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld and one-time fifth-round pick Michael Hoomanawanui, who has slightly more career catches than letters in his surname.
It matters little to Brady that he is surrounded by receivers and running backs who seem collected from eBay or the bargain bin.
While his percentage rate might dip slightly and the occasional improper route-running or dropped ball might elicit scowls from him, Brady remains effective enough with this anonymous bunch for the Patriots to stand a wobbly 4-0.
The uncelebrated cast was not assembled by design.
New England were forced into scramble mode when Wes Welker fled to the Denver Broncos through free agency, Rob Gronkowski was idled by surgeries and Aaron Hernandez was jailed on murder charges.
Only Julian Edelman remained.
The Patriots did replace Welker with the accomplished Danny Amendola, but he has been injured.
Earlier this season, Brady half-apologised for emoting angrily at times.
“I think I have to do a better job with my body language,” he said.
“I definitely can improve that. I wouldn’t say it’s a real strong point of mine right now.”
Brady reminds himself that he is not aiming at 10-year veterans with a volume of career statistics.
“It’s not what they are,” he said, “but they’re trying hard. They have a lot of skill and they’re great kids.”
The most intriguing among the “kids” is Kembrell Thompkins, who pinballed among several colleges before entering the league at age 25. Every dropped catch has been offset by an eye-popping one that his battery-mate is learning to live with.
“It’s really rare to see that, having a young player step in with the kind of confidence he has,” Brady said.
The lone trusted holdover to play much this season is Edelman, who is Welker Lite. That is fine with Brady, who said of Edelman: “It’s hard when you’re playing behind Wes all these years.
“Wes was so durable, Jules never got a chance. Now he’s got it.”
Brady might not have been as dazzling in September as the supernatural Peyton Manning at Denver, the other elite quarterback of their generation.
But, given the stark contrast in reputation of their receiver corps, who is having the better season is a worthy debate.