FOXBOROUGH — D.J. Williams is learning an awful lot about the Patriots’ offense. Now the tight end is hoping for a chance to put that knowledge to good use.
For the second time in two weeks, Williams has been signed because an injury to a tight end has left the team thin at that position. On Nov. 27, it was not long after Michael Hoomanawanui was sidelined. Williams was signed, didn’t play in a game, then was released Dec. 4.
He’s back again, signed Monday, following a season-ending knee injury suffered the day before by Rob Gronkowski. Because of the severity — and because Hoomanawanui returned to practice only last week — Williams should be able to stick around a bit longer this time. The only other tight end on the roster is Matthew Mulligan, who has two catches on the season.
“It’s huge. Being here before, getting a little headstart, now I’m able to break the huddle and know if I need to go right or left,” said Williams, who has nine catches in his 34-game career. “That’s a big start, I’m glad I got that down.”
Williams said he considered staying in New England after his initial release, but headed home to Arkansas instead. He’s back, with a new jersey number (45 instead of 86), and the same expectations from the person who might be throwing Williams the ball.
“The way [Tom Brady] approaches us in the huddle or in the meeting rooms, he’ll say, ‘All right, I need you to do this,’ ” Williams said. “Nothing’s changed, and he expects us to be able to step up and play and we expect it from ourselves, too. It’s good to know our quarterback has that trust in us.”
With Sunday’s last-minute victory over the Browns, Bill Belichick extended his NFL record of consecutive 10-win seasons to 11. The coach was asked if he and his staff take any time to savor such an accomplishment.
“We enjoy any win for a brief period of time after the game is over. It’s hard to win in this league, and it’s good to win, it feels good to win. But as soon as that’s over we’ve got to move on to the next challenge, we can’t sit around and talk about what happened last week, or last year, or some other year,” Belichick said. “It’s a short window, and it’s no different than after a loss.
“That’s the National Football League. If you dwell on the past, then you’re not going to play well in the future.”
As bittersweet as Sunday’s win was — losing Gronkowski to a season-ending knee injury, then scoring two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds to shock the Browns — Belichick said by the next day, the focus has already turned to the next opponent. In this case, the Dolphins, who trail the Patriots by three games in the AFC East with three games to play, starting with Sunday’s game at Sun Life Stadium.
“We’ve got another challenge this week, we’ve got to move on, so that’s what we did,” Belichick said. “By Monday evening, that page is turned, it has to. As good as some of the wins have been, and as disappointing as some of the losses have been, by Monday afternoon, Monday evening, it’s on to the next team. It’s got to be that way.”
Belichick was also asked about the impact Gronkowski’s loss will have, and whether the fact that the Patriots played the first six weeks without him will benefit the team now.
“First six weeks? You’re talking about all spring, all training camp, and the first six regular-season games? Yeah, we’ve played a lot more this season without him than we have with him,” Belichick said. “Look, you hate to see what happened to Rob happen to Rob, but we’ve played most of the year without Rob, in some capacity, so that’s unfortunately where we are now, but that’s where we are now. It’s not anything that we haven’t dealt with here during the year.”
Feats of Clay
Dolphins tight end Charles Clay has just one 100-yard receiving game this season, but he’s averaging six catches per contest over the past month, and scored three touchdowns in that span.
Picked in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, Clay is quickly developing a solid working relationship with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and is explosive enough to get the full attention of the Patriots’ defense.
“He can block in the running game, he definitely presents challenges in the passing game, as well. He can line up in multiple positions, he has speed, he has size, he’s very athletic, has good hands,” safety Steve Gregory said. “He’s a guy we’ll definitely have to be aware of, he’s a guy who can make plays for them, he’s kind of been a go-to guy for them coming down the stretch.”
Clay caught seven passes in each of Miami’s last two games, for 80 yards against the Jets, then 97 yards (plus two touchdowns) in last week’s win at Pittsburgh.
As impressive as his pass-catching numbers have been, Clay’s impact on the Dolphins’ run game is what stands out to Belichick.
“Probably the one thing that’s impressed me the most about Clay — we know he has a lot of playmaking ability, he’s fast, he’s very good with the ball in his hands after the catch — I’d say the thing that’s impressed me the most about him is his blocking. He really competes hard as a blocker,” Belichick said. “He’s been matched up against defensive ends numerous times in the running game, and he blocks them. He competes well with them. He’s definitely not afraid to stick his nose in there and be tough and competitive.”
Marcus Cannon practiced Wednesday for the first time since leaving the Nov. 24 game against Denver with an ankle injury, but fellow offensive lineman Nate Solder missed the workout with a concussion. Because forecasted highs for Miami this weekend are in the 80s, the practice was held inside the climate-controlled field house. Receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) was the only other player to miss, although Brady (throwing shoulder) and 10 others were limited in their participation . . . A few more comments from Belichick during his press conference. First, on the Dolphins’ road win Sunday over the Steelers: “I thought it was a good win for them in Pittsburgh last week in certainly un-South Florida-like conditions.” Then, in a teleconference with Dolphins media, on the bullying scandal that’s finally simmered a bit: “I think the media blew a lot of that out of proportion and all the hype and everything, but that didn’t derail them in any way.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.