With two catches on Sunday, Chris Hogan picked up enough receiving yardage to give him a career-high in a single game. He finished with four grabs for 114 yards, but his 43 and 63-yarders in the second quarter -- resulting in more combined yardage than his previous career-high (95 yards) as a member of the Bills -- stood out as he was able to get behind the Browns defense and track the football for explosive gains.
In Tom Brady's first game back, Hogan led the Patriots in receiving yards, and he flashed long speed that could potentially make him the kind of big-play receiver for whom some fans have clamored since Randy Moss was traded to the Vikings in 2010.
When asked about Hogan's performance over the weekend, Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained that Hogan has always had big-play speed. He just wasn't able to show it all that often as a member of Buffalo's offense.
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"I think you saw his speed with Buffalo, especially in the kicking game," Belichick said. "His coverage plays on kickoff and punt, I mean, you see it in the return game too, just not as much, I would say. I don’t think his ability to run, his speed, I don’t think you could really question that. Again if you watch the kicking game plays from the Bills over the past couple years, I think his playing speed is very good.
"Maybe you haven’t seen [Matthew] Slater play a lot on offense, but I think based on what you’ve seen of him playing the kicking game, you would be able to see his speed in that phase of the game too, right? Not saying it’s the same, but it’s similar. I think when you watch Chris play, you don’t see a slow player. You see a player that has good playing speed. I think he’s shown that on multiple, multiple occasions. You know, might not all be on offense but you can definitely see it. So I wouldn’t say that’s been a big surprise that he plays fast. I think we saw him as a fast player when we played against him."
Hogan left Sunday's game briefly after suffering a head injury and being forced to undergo the NFL's concussion protocol. He did, however, return to action and if healthy will provide the Patriots with a versatile inside-outside receiving threat against the Bengals at Gillette Stadium.
In five games this season, Hogan has 12 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown in 275 snaps. He's played more than any other Patriots receiver this year other than Julian Edelman (278 snaps), indicating his overall value to the offense whether he is consistently contributing explosive gains for the offense or not.
"Chris’ situation, even though he has some NFL experience, I think some of the things we asked him to do in the passing game were new to him, maybe a little bit different in our offensive structure," Belichick said. "He’s worked very at those -- the communication, the route adjustments, the technique -- and has played different positions which that’s part of our offense too, as you know, moving those guys around a little bit.
"There’s definitely a learning curve, but he’s done a good job with that. He’s tough, out there every day, really wants to get it right, work hard on the things that he needs to improve on. He’s very diligent about that. You know, working on those coaching points that [receivers] coach [Chad] O’Shea and [offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels give to him. I think there’s still a ways to go. It’s not like we’re there yet. But he’s worked hard at it. He’s made a lot of progress and he’s made a lot of big plays for us."