FOXBOROUGH — The last time the Patriots played the Colts, tight end Tim Wright played just 11 of New England’s 77 offensive snaps in a 42-20 Week 11 victory.
But that didn’t stop Wright from making an impact, as he hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady that gave the Patriots a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.
This season, Wright has played just 31 percent of the offensive snaps and received only 33 targets, but he has made 26 catches — six of which have been for touchdowns.
So has gone the story this season for Wright and a string of other role players, who seem to have embraced their jobs and perfected the art of making an impact in a brief time on the field.
The Patriots are no different from any other team in the sense that they count on their star players, the Tom Bradys and Rob Gronkowskis, to power the offense.
But what does it take for guys such as Wright to be ready when their number is called at a moment’s notice and the lights are shining brightest, as they will be Sunday when the Patriots take on the Colts in the AFC Championship game?
“I feel the same consistent approach week in and week out allows you to go into a game with the same mentality, and that consistency is important,” Wright said.
“Regardless of how big the stage is in the game, that’s what carries you to have a productive game in Week 3 and then a productive game in the second game of the playoffs. Our organization preaches that a lot, and guys buy into it, and that’s how we carry our team.”
In that Week 11 win, running back Jonas Gray, who had been signed off the practice squad just a month earlier and was making only his second career start, put himself on the NFL map when he rushed for 201 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns.
The second-year player from Notre Dame was an unlikely hero that Sunday, but he was prepared to step in and do what he needed to do.
“A lot of it has to do with the coaching staff,” said Gray. “They do a good job preparing everybody the same way. And also the leaders around the team, they do a good job letting everybody know the importance of the game.
“I think players who want to compete are going to compete regardless if they know their role or not.”
A lot has changed since that game against the Colts, who have won seven of eight, including playoff wins against Cincinnati and Denver. But their run defense, which for the season is allowing 111.8 yards per game, is still a weakness.
Does that set the stage for Gray, who has played sparingly since his Week 11 rampage, to have another breakout game? Or will another role player steal the spotlight?
“It’s going to be a different team than we faced before,” Gray said. “You can throw out basically what happened before. Both teams will have a different game plan, so you just have to be ready.”
In the Patriots’ 35-31 playoff win against the Ravens last Saturday, Danny Amendola the kick returner was finally outplayed by Danny Amendola the wide receiver, who hauled in five catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
In that one game, Amendola hauled in more touchdowns than he had all season.
Amendola has played only 40.3 percent of the offensive snaps this season, but he’s always ready to contribute, something that drew praise from Brady.
“Whenever his number has been called, he’s made the play, so I think that’s a great tribute to what he’s done, the work he puts in every day,” Brady said. “He comes out to practice every day and works his butt off. He’s made some huge plays for us this year.”
It’s cliché and coach-speak, but Bill Belichick is famous for emphasizing the importance of “doing your job” and “what’s best for the team.”
While it sounds boring, Belichick has ingrained those simple thoughts into the culture of the organization. He has players ready to contribute, never feeling as though one person’s job is more important than another’s.
That’s how players like Wright have been able to perform when called on, even when they’re devoid of any rhythm in a game.
“Your mentality and preparation allows you to have that same consistent fire, whether you’re in five plays or the whole game,” said Wright. “I’m a team player.