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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #84: Benjamin Watson

Some players you cherish for a career, or for a season, or for a game. For some, it's for a single play.

In 2005, the Pats went into Denver for a divisional playoff game on a ten-game postseason winning streak. Tom Brady was 10-0 in his still-young playoff career, with three rings already in his pocket at the age of 28. This game against the Broncos was destined to be his first playoff loss. It was also destined to be the setting for one of the most remarkable individual plays ever seen on a football field (not to mention one of the worst officiating mistakes).

It was the third quarter and the Pats, down 10-6, were finally moving the ball, and had a third down at the Denver 5-yard line. A touchdown would put the good guys ahead, and keep alive dreams of keeping the streak going and maybe even a third consecutive title. Brady made a bad throw into the end zone, Denver corner Champ Bailey picked it off, and Bailey sprinted untouched more than 100 yards toward an easy pick-six that would grow the Bronco lead.

Except Ben Watson touched him.

Watson came out of Georgia in 2004, and the Pats took him 32nd overall at the end of the first round of the NFL draft. Notably, Watson posted a 48 out of 50 on the controversial Wonderlic test, intended to measure cognitive ability among prospects. The average for tight ends is 22. Watson battled injuries throughout his seven seasons with the Patriots, playing 81 of a possible 112 regular season games including his valedictory 2019 stint. He caught 184 balls in New England for 2,275 yards and 20 touchdowns, and received a ring for the Super Bowl win against the Eagles despite being on injured reserve.

Watson never really realized his first-round talent, never exceeding 75 catches or 825 yards or 6 scores in a season during time with New England, Cleveland, New Orleans, or Baltimore. He was a reliable if not spectacular blocker and receiver. Ben Watson was a good man, though, a man of strong religious faith and outspoken views on race, and as his Wonderlic test suggested, a heady player on the field.

That awareness - and spectacular effort - was on display in Denver in 2005 when Watson chased Bailey down from behind, covering more than 100 yards to get his man and force a fumble at the one yard line. The ball came loose in the field of play and pretty clearly went through the end zone on its way out of bounds. All of the players (including Bailey) thought it was a touchback and the ball would be placed at the 20 yard line and possession awarded to the Patriots. Instead, legendarily bad ref Jeff Triplette placed the ball at the one and the Broncos promptly scored. The 17-6 deficit proved too much for the Pats to overcome, and Tom Brady would be saddled with his first postseason loss. It sure wasn't Ben Watson's fault.

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