After offensive tackle Nate Solder caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the AFC championship game, we can't help but wonder, who's going to be the next unexpected player to catch a Brady touchdown?
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Nate Solder doesn't want to talk about his touchdown catch. Like, really does not want to discuss it, even dropping a "It's over, we're moving on, we've got a lot of things to worry about this week" when the topic comes up for approximately the eight hundredth time during New England's media availability on Wednesday.
OK, so let's not talk about it. The 16-yard touchdown toss from Tom Brady to Solder happened a week and a half ago, as part of the Patriots' runaway 45-7 AFC championship victory over Indianapolis. Leave it in the past.
Instead, we can look to the future and wonder, who's going to be next?
"[Sebastian] Vollmer could," James White offered, "as long as he had enough space."
Solder is not the first Patriots' offensive lineman to haul in a touchdown from Brady. That honor belongs to Tom Ashworth, who scored from one yard out back on Dec. 17, 2005. He's also seven Brady-thrown touchdown receptions behind linebacker Mike Vrabel, this franchise's most famous non-skill position player-turned-offensive weapon.
This is but a piece of the Bill Belichick mystique. Other coaches utilize creative calls -- "trick plays", if you're feeling slightly more condescending. Few have made those clever curve balls as much a part of the norm as Belichick has.
To wit: The Solder catch came just one game after Belichick made Baltimore coach John Harbaugh furious by rolling out a formation featuring four offensive lineman, an ineligible running back in the slot and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui running a successful route from a tackle spot.
"I think this a team that is kind of difficult," said Seattle LB Bobby Wagner, "because you never know how they are going to approach the game."
Odds are, Belichick plays it straight come Super Bowl Sunday. Falling short on a gimmick, as opposed to with the Patriots' best players touching the football, would be difficult to reconcile. Belichick has plenty of available bodies, though, should he opt for another roll of the dice.
The most popular suggestion as an unexpected offensive hero, from the Patriots themselves? Linebacker Jamie Collins. "Jamie could play wide receiver if he wanted to," Garoppolo said. "He's a freak athlete."
Collins' last reception came way back in ... well, he can't even remember. "It's been a long time," was all he could muster.
Collins, who starred as a QB/LB in high school, has yet to make a catch during two seasons with the Patriots, and he pitched a matching goose egg at Southern Methodist. Still, on a defense loaded with versatile talent, Collins stands out. If Brady could turn Vrabel into a red-zone threat, surely he could help kickstart Collins' receiving career.
"Anyone would be happy to catch a touchdown from Tom Brady," Collins said. "I mean, he's Tom Brady."
If Collins knew of any plans to involve him on offense this week, he was not revealing them. And if those plans have yet to be made, it's probably safe to rule out the second-year linebacker as a sneaky passing target.
"Whenever you use something that is a little bit unique, I don’t think those are the things that you put in Thursday afternoon and then run them on Sunday," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said during Media Day. "A lot of times you put them in in training camp. You rep them for maybe months. Then, when you feel like your players have confidence and they know what to do and they can execute it no matter what happens on defense, then you go ahead and call it in the right situation in the game and hope that it works.
"We have called other ones this year that maybe didn’t even get noticed because it never even gets off the ground. Those plays are really a result of the player’s execution. As soon as we feel good about what they know how to do, regardless of what the defense does, then we have no fear in calling them."
Clearly, the Patriots felt they had caught the Colts at the right time when McDaniels dialed up Solder's number. Solder lined up as an eligible tackle on the play, then released downfield after throwing a block so Brady could fake a handoff. It was downhill running from there for Solder, a tight end during his early college days.
True to McDaniels' words, Solder later said the Patriots had "been practicing that for years," which means the wheels have long been in motion for any slight-of-hand New England tries this weekend.
"We got a lot of guys that are real athletic, so we've got a lot of tricks or screens that we can run," Solder said. "We've got all sorts of good athletes, I don't want to predict any one [player] or the other."
Now, someone please ask the guy about something else.