FOXBOROUGH — The acquisition of Chris Hogan kind of flew under the radar during the Patriots offseason.
Then the receiver spent his first season in New England flying across everyone’s radar by making big play after big play.
The former Bills receiver has emerged as a versatile and valuable weapon and has provided Tom Brady with a bona fide deep threat. A bit player in Buffalo, he has become a bit of a big deal in New England.
Hogan has 38 receptions (admit it, you thought it was more) for a career-high 680 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. While the number of catches has remained consistent (he had 41 in 2014 and 36 last season) the big difference this season has been his yards per catch: an NFL-high 17.9.
While he arrived in town with the reputation for being a bit of a possession receiver, Hogan quickly shifted those perceptions.
“I think they found out pretty quickly that I could run,’’ said Hogan said of his new teammates. “I don’t know if they were surprised but it’s just one of those things where I’m always going to go out there and run as hard as I can. I think they kind of knew that going into it.’’
One guy who had an inkling that Hogan would blossom in New England is Devin McCourty, who chased him around the last few seasons and then worked out with him this offseason after he signed on.
“Obviously you don’t know about a guy’s work ethic until you’re around him more,’’ he said. “To me, that’s what stuck out — working out with him in the offseason, seeing everything that he puts into route running, working out, lifting — so I wasn’t really surprised.
“I texted a couple of guys in the offseason and said, ‘This guy is going to fit in pretty well here,’ and he has done a a great job of just doing his job — making big plays for us in the big moments.
“Happy for him, and he’s a Jersey guy, so I’m for it.’’
Fellow safety Patrick Chung remembered Hogan as a “fast, strong, physical” receiver.
One of Hogan’s top priorities when he landed in New England was to build a rapport with Brady. It developed quickly as Hogan stood out during OTAs and throughout camp. He impressed play after play, day after day, and week after week.
Hogan also worked feverishly with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, and that paid dividends early on with Brady suspended for the first four weeks. Hogan’s first signature play came in Week 1, a 37-yard scoring strike from Garoppolo — New England’s first points of the season.
His first big connection with Brady came in Week 5, the quarterback’s re-entry game in Cleveland. In that one, Hogan collected a 63-yarder. He also grabbed touchdown passes of 53 yards (in his return to Buffalo) and 79 yards (a back-breaker against Baltimore).
Hogan has been particularly adept at scrambling to find open spots when Brady is scrambling to extend plays. Hogan said communication has been the key.
“Even at this time of year, we’re always working toward building that trust,’’ said Hogan. “We’re always talking about how he sees things, and that helps me because if I get that look during practice or in games, I know what Tom is looking at so that I can run the right route.
“It’s a constant flow of communication back and forth trying to be on the same page as him, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be on the same page this year lots of times.’’
Hogan said the communication lines are particularly open during games.
“We always talk about how we think we beat this guy or that guy,’’ said Hogan. “Tom’s a very approachable guy, so you can go up and tell him, and if he likes an idea, he’ll tell you, and if he doesn’t, he’ll tell you that, too.’’
Hogan’s breakout season continued last week in his first career playoff game, a win over the Texans. The chemistry between quarterback and receiver was evident. Brady connected with Hogan for gains of 45, 22, and 21 yards. Hogan also was the intended target on a pass that netted a 30-yard gain when Houston corner A.J. Bouye was flagged for pass interference.
Hogan suffered a “minor setback” in the second half of that game when he injured his thigh. He revealed this week that he could have returned to action if necessary, but trainers thought it was better to go the precautionary route.
Brady has been impressed by what Hogan has brought to the receiving corps and his steady progression as a reliable weapon. He hopes and expects that to continue as the team prepares to face the Steelers in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
“I think he’s just shown over the course of the season he can do that,’’ said Brady. “He’s just done a great job for us. He’s up there in yards per catch and he’s been phenomenal. He made a bunch of big plays last game and we’ll need that this week.’’
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.