FOXBORO — All Demaryius Thomas wants right now is a chance, a chance to prove he can regain the form that resulted in five Pro Bowl selections, two second-team All-Pro honors and 60 touchdowns in his days with the Broncos.
Last year, after being traded midseason to the Texans, he tore his Achilles on Christmas Eve in Philadelphia.
After the Patriots signed him to a one-year, $2.9 million deal in April after the Texans released him in March, it was time for Thomas to re-group mentally and think of the new opportunity he has to win his second Super Bowl ring.
“I played a while on opposite teams. Beginning of the season, the first team I’d look at is the Patriots and see who they’re playing, and come playoff time, see what position they are. Now to be a part of it, it feels great,” Thomas said after Thursday’s preseason game, the first contest he’s played in since tearing his Achilles on Dec. 24, 2018.
After not seeing the field in the first three preseason games, Thomas caught seven passes on eight targets Thursday night in the preseason finale. He gained 87 yards and caught a pair of touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham in a 31-29 loss to the Giants. But when Thomas played in the first half, he was showing he could still make catches in traffic and toe-tap around the pylon, two strong indicators that perhaps he is getting his feet under him to the point where he might be able to contribute when Tom Brady starts firing passes for real on Sept. 8.
“I was excited, especially first game coming back from tearing my Achilles, getting out to make a couple plays. You know, I was excited about it and I look to build on it and keep getting better,” Thomas said. “I actually feel a lot better now. Before the injury, I was a little smaller. But I’m a little heavier, a little stronger. The program we’ve been doing here has helped out a lot, so I feel great.”
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“We’ll take a look at the film and see how it looked,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a tone not wanting to over commit one way or another in his evaluation.
Did Thomas feel he needed this game to be ready and feel comfortable for the regular season?
“Yes. To get to game pace, get the calls, line up, see different coverages, different guys than the guys I see at practice – you know, I think it’s a great start for me and I can build on it,” Thomas added.
After any Achilles injury, rehab is tough and recapturing confidence can be tougher. Thomas sounded like a guy after Thursday’s game who has conquered that mental aspect of the challenge.
“I just go out and play. If I’m going to get hurt, I’m going to get hurt, but I’m going to be full speed getting hurt. My Achilles is great,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to play my best ball. I’m not going to think about anything, I’m not going to have it in the back of my head, because usually when I have it in the back of my head, I don’t play my best. So, I’m just going to give my best, and if I get hurt, I just get hurt.”
But if he’s healthy, Thomas, who made a career out of catching passes from Peyton Manning, joins a receiving corps that’s suddenly explosive with big receivers and big-game targets for Brady. Brady could be throwing to Julian Edelman, Thomas, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett and N’Keal Harry starting a week from Sunday.
“I want to be a part of it for sure,” Thomas told me. “Just being around, watching the guys work, watching the guys week-in and week-out, from Detroit to Tennessee, we’ve got a lot of potential. But there are a lot of guys around the league that I feel like are going after the Patriots, because I know when I was on other teams, we were going after them. We might look good on the roster, but we’ve got to go out every week and get better and better every week. So, if I can be a part of that, I’ll be happy.”
And if he can be productive, Tom Brady and the Patriots as a whole will be even happier.