DENVER — One week ago, Martellus Bennett was in Green Bay mulling surgery and an early retirement. And yet there he was on Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, catching a pass from Tom Brady and rumbling 27 yards in a Patriots uniform.
That came with 5:18 left in the first quarter, four days after the Patriots claimed him off waivers from Green Bay. Bennett packed his things, flew to New England, and practiced just once with his new team before heading out on the road for this nine-day trip spanning Colorado and Mexico City.
And all that, according to Bennett, came after he’d considered surgery and an early retirement. The shoulder injury had kept him off the field since Oct. 22 didn’t stop him from playing for the Patriots in prime time.
So what changed?
It wasn’t a Mile High Miracle so much as a little sweet-talking by the Patriots. Bennett said he’d told his agent to tell teams not to claim him off waivers because he was done, but then Bill Belichick called to say the Patriots wanted to claim him.
“We had a quick conversation. I was just like, ‘Let me think about it, I’m going to call you back.’ Even then it wasn’t just like, ‘Hey, you want to come?’ ” Bennett said. “It was, ‘Let me just call you back in a few minutes and let me get a chance to think about it and regroup because I don’t even know if I went through the seven stages of grief yet.’ I’m probably on Step 3.”
Tom Brady also sent Bennett a text to check in and ask what Bennett was doing.
“I was like, I’m dropping my daughter off at school I’m just a stay-at-home dad right now,” Bennett said.
Bennett weighed his options. He said he’d already asked his representatives to look into television gigs for the rest of the season. He knew he could keep playing, but doing so would risk more damage to his shoulder and he would be somewhat limited. Ultimately, the Packers’ decision to cut him made him want to show them what they were missing.
“It was one of those things, I talked to six or seven doctors about it and you know, it could go either way. It was one of those things I felt like I should get fixed,” Bennett said.
“And then after trying to get it fixed and getting waived, you just hit that, you’ve got that vengeance in your heart and you’re like all right, if that’s how you’re going to do it then [expletive] it, let’s go ball.”
So he got on a plane and went to Foxborough. Bennett arrived on Thursday and Belichick asked if he could practice the next day before flying to Denver. Bennett agreed. (“I think he knows how to talk to me,” he said.)
“Marty obviously had been in the system for a year,” Belichick said. “He worked really hard. He was here early, stayed late, trying to catch up on the assignments and some of the terms that are different from last year.”
Then on Sunday, like a living before-and-after photo, Bennett made three catches for 38 yards.
He didn’t play much, but he was efficient. He played two snaps in the first quarter and caught passes on each of them, a 5-yard grab following the 27-yard catch-and-run. Bennett came back in for a snap in the third quarter and, for the first time in the game, the Patriots showed enough confidence in Bennett’s shoulder to keep him in to block instead of sending him out on a route.
On Monday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said that Bennett would be out Sunday for Green Bay’s game against the Bears. In less than a week, Bennett changed teams and his injury status, and the Patriots took a player under questionable circumstances and immediately got him to contribute.
The Packers cut Bennett Wednesday with the designation that he’d failed to report a medical condition. Bennett is suffering from a torn rotator cuff, according to the NFL Network, and he wrote on Instagram last week that he had been considering season-ending surgery. By playing Sunday, Bennett indicated he has elected not to have that surgery. He said he was not sure if this season will be his last.
Bennett was highly critical of the Packers’ medical staff in his social media posts. After Bennett claimed team physician Patrick McKenzie pushed him to play through pain in his shoulder, multiple Packers players, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, rushed to the doctor’s defense.
“I’ve been working with Dr. McKenzie for 13 years, and as well as being a phenomenal doctor, he’s also become a close friend,” Rodgers wrote on Instagram. “He’s done surgery on me twice, and I trust him and his opinion implicitly. Doc has always tried to protect me and my future, even if it meant protecting me from myself and my desire to get back on the field before I should.”
There was speculation that Bennett, who won a Super Bowl on a one-year deal in New England last season, was willing to play through pain for a contender but not for the flailing Packers, who lost Rodgers the week after the Week 5 game in which Bennett claims he worsened his shoulder injury.
Bennett said he didn’t care about any comments from his former teammates.
“I got criticism from all of my former organizations so I mean, [expletive]. At this point it’s like I’m rubber, you’re glue,” Bennett said.
The Packers will reportedly try to get back some or all of Bennett’s signing bonus by claiming he wasn’t forthcoming about the extent to which his shoulder was damaged when they signed him in March.
Whatever Bennett’s role was in his departure from Green Bay, the Patriots are surely pleased by their addition. Bennett was a valuable contributor who played all 19 games last season despite having multiple injuries and filled in well for Rob Gronkowski when the primary tight end was injured.
And on Sunday he was back with them again, in blue and white, catching passes from Brady before heading back into a winning locker room. It was almost like nothing had changed, even though so much had, and so quickly.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.