FOXBOROUGH — It was a buried transaction.
Damiere Byrd signed with the Patriots on March 23, which coincidentally was the same day the franchise released Stephen Gostkowski, its all-time leading scorer.
The kicker’s departure received the headlines, the receiver’s arrival was nothing more than a notebook item.
Byrd, who was coming off his best pro season by far with the Cardinals, catching 32 passes for 359 yards, was known as a track star who happened to play football.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound Byrd came to camp with a mix of young veterans and rookie free agents looking to carve out a role. He kept flashing his speed and making plans through the dog days and earned a spot.
The coaching staff lauded Byrd for his ability to absorb a complex playbook comparatively quickly during the unusual offseason, and that gave him a leg up when the club was able to report for camp.
"Yeah, I think what helped me out was just being away from, believe it or not, the building when everything first started [with the pandemic],'' Byrd said. "So, I was really able to take my time and go as slow as I needed to, to learn the playbook and just diving in every day and just take heed and listen to what Josh [McDaniels] and Mick [Lombardi] and Coach [Bill Belichick] had to say and just taking all the coaching points all around and learn.''
Fast forward to the regular season, and Byrd is on pace to shatter his career highs and is now getting top billing as the New England’s top pass catcher, with team highs in receptions (26) and yards (337).
It’s been a bit of a revelation for quarterback Cam Newton, who was with Byrd during the receiver’s three relatively nondescript seasons in Carolina, where he had a dozen catches for 129 yards in 17 games.
"Man, when I first got here, I had to just take a moment to just chat [with Byrd], just like I’ve done with a lot of people here,'' said Newton. "But for Damiere, to have known him and where he came from and his journey to where he is now. Man, I just wanted to appreciate his professionalism and his evolving of a player, a football player that is, and he’s just been great. A guy who understands this offense, a guy who has been learning so much, a guy who has just taken an opportunity and tried to make the most of it. Like I said, I seen when Damiere first stepped in the locker room as a wide-eyed rookie not knowing who to kind of cling on to. But for him, the moment is never too big and every year he’s gotten better, and I think he has his best football still set ahead of him.''
Newton is still bowled over by Byrd’s speed.
"Oh, without a doubt,'' said the quarterback. "I mean, I could put a Top 5 Mount Rushmore of guys who I have had the opportunity to play with and he’s definitely up there.''
Gilmore out again
Stephon Gilmore missed his third straight game Sunday night as the reigning defensive player of the year continues to battle through a knee injury.
Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin) was out for the second consecutive and new nose tackle Isaiah Mack also was in inactive.
The good news for the defense was the return of tackle Lawrence Guy, who answered the bell despite being questionable with shoulder, elbow, and knee injuries.
On offense, receiver N’Keal Harry (concussion) returned after two weeks and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor (ankle) was back after a three-week stint on injured reserve.
Guard Hjalte Froholdt, quarterback Brian Hoyer, running back J.J. Taylor, and new tight end Jordan Thomas were the offensive inactives.
For the Ravens, starters Calais Campbell (defensive tackle), L.J. Fort (linebacker), and Jimmy Smith (cornerback) were the key inactives.
Bailey ready to kick in
Punter/kickoff specialist Jake Bailey took some field goals during warmups as Nick Folk’s emergency backup. Bailey hit from 43 yards to the south end zone but clanged a 48-yarder off the right upright to the north (Lighthouse) end zone … Folk was 6 for 6 in his warmups … The Ravens entered Gillette Stadium riding a 10-game road winning streak. The last team to win 11 straight away from home was the Patriots, who posted 14 straight wins from 2016-17 … During his pregame show on 98.5, Belichick was asked what player from the 1950s and/or 60s he would have like to have coached and he quickly said, “Jim Brown.” … Belichick also said he believed former Baltimore Colts quarterback Bert Jones would have been considered “among the all-time greats” had he not injured his shoulder early in his career … The teams observed a moment of silence before the national anthem for Arlington native Marwan Sameh Ghabour. The 27-year-old Chief Warrant Officer was one of five US Army soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Egypt last week.