ATLANTA — Lost in the chaos of the AFC Championship postgame mayhem - with jockstraps, towels and used tape all over the floor was Cordarrelle Patterson in tears hugging Pats character coach Jack Easterby.
It was an emotional moment for Patterson who had overcome adversity in life and his career to finally reach a Super Bowl. Patteson had grown up in Rock Hill, South Carolina where many NFL players had come from including Stephon Gilmore and Jadeveon Clowney. Raised by a single mother who worked two jobs at restaurants to support her family, Patterson was always thankful to have a meal to eat.
Patterson was not heavily recruited and first had to attend junior college in Hutchinson, Kansas before he transferred to Tennessee and became one of the best college players in the country. The Minnesota Vikings ironically traded a myriad of draft picks to the Patriots to move up and select Patterson in the first round of the 2013 draft. Four years in Minnesota and then one year in Oakland, Patterson's NFL career seemed on the ropes. The Pats gave up little to acquire Patterson (swapping fifth round picks with Oakland).
"There are a lot of ups and downs in football and Jack is someone you can always go talk to," Patterson said. "Of course, you pinch yourself when you make the Super Bowl. It is something you always dream about. "
Patterson said he has matured in his sixth NFL season because he has children now.
"I have kids now," Patterson said. "Once you have children it opens you up in ways you never thought possible. Once you get that parent vibe everything starts changing."
A Bond With Fellow Receivers
Chris Hogan was a little jealous of Patterson earlier this year. Hogan and Patterson had formed a special bond. Suddenly, Patterson was being taken out of the receiver meeting and put into the running back meeting. The receiving group had developed a special bond and became territorial when one of their players was in another position group. Hogan like the other receivers was impressed with Patterson's work ethic and flexibility when given unexpected assignments.
"He works really hard in practice and has become a really good route runner," Hogan said. "Cordarrelle is a really good athlete so when he was asked to play running back we were not surprised that he played well. A little jealous? maybe when he is spending time in the running back room."
The running back position had looked strong in training camp. But the injury bug hit the running back group hard. Jeremy Hill was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Rex Burkhead missed a large part of the season with a neck injury and Sony Michel missed three games because of a knee injury. One of those games Michel missed was against Green Bay. The Pats were desperate at running back and they turned to Patterson who had 11 rushes for 61 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Patterson has a strong relationship with Phillip Dorsett too. The two have spent a lot of time together this week given that they are away from their families.
"CP that is my guy," Dorsett. "We do a lot together. It is has been great just to have him in the locker room. He has become one of my closest friends on the team. We both have families so we don't get to spend too much time together away from the facility so it is nice to spend some time together this week."
Patterson often can be seen in the locker room wearing his headphones and when a media member or player comes up to him he responds "What's up boss man?" Dorsett said with Patterson there is no pretense.
"What you see is what you get. He is a genuine guy who likes to spend a lot of time with his family," Dorsett said. "He is a really cool guy - a fun loving guy. He will joke with me all the time."
Patterson and Dorsett in some ways are kindred spirits in that they were drafted in the first round with high expectations. Both players were first round picks who were considered disappointments. This season has been a redemption tour for both.
"None of that matters now - where you were drafted. It just matters how you play," Dorsett said.
Using Patterson More Effectively
Minnesota Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer said on a conference call with the New England media earlier this year that the Pats used Patterson in a more effective manner than the Vikings did. The Pats likely learned that even with Patterson's desire to be a good route runner his speed is what makes him stands out. The Pats knew they had to get the ball in his hands whether it was deep routes or jet sweeps.
Patterson has told Pats Maven multiple times this year that his philosophy is simple "get the ball in your hands and do something with it." Coaches often love to talk about scheme, but the genius of Belichick (per conversations with multiple players) is that he doesn't overload players. If a player can't do something there is no sense in trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
"Cordarrelle has come in and embraced what we were trying to do offensively," WR coach Chad O'Shea said. "We try to have him do as many things as his skill set will allow. He works extremely hard. With all of players, we try to utilize their skill set and strengths. We always try and talk about what a player can and can't do. When we have asked him to do things he has done, he has gone out and done them."
O'Shea said Patterson has benefitted from veteran receivers like Julian Edelman.
"Those receivers have really helped teach him the offense and show him the way we do things," O'Shea said. "What's important is when you come to our team - you need to speak the same language as the other players. CP did a great job of working hard to try and put himself in the best position to be successful. I can't say enough good things about him. He has given us the opportunity to stand here and be in this position."
O'Shea said Patterson's emotional style of play have been a positive.
"He brings what I call juice to our group," O'Shea said. "He's never has a bad day and brings good energy to the group. It's been a pleasure to coach him with his enthusiasm, his great personality and I am glad we have him in the receiver group."
O'Shea is impressed with how Patterson has overcome adversity.
"He has overcome a lot of challenges both personally and professionally," O'Shea said. "That is who he is as a person and
someone I think highly of."
Patterson returned one kickoff for a touchdown this year. It helped the Pats beat the Chicago Bears. The Pats have never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Patterson could be the first.
"The Chicago game was many months ago," Patterson said. "What happened in Chicago isn't going to help us on Sunday against the Rams."
Patterson has surely adopted the Pats way.
*All the interviews in this story are my own. The Providence Journal's Mark Daniels feature on Patterson in September provided important background research.