EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brandon Bolden’s phone was blowing up back on March 14 as rumors of his imminent return to New England were confirmed.
Among the congratulatory and welcome back texts was a gif of Carlton Banks doing his signature arm swinging happy dance from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’’
“I was just really excited,’’ said Matthew Slater, laughing as he explained why he chose that particular correspondence.
It was a most appropriate choice as there may not be a more upbeat and energetic guy in the Patriots’ locker room than Bolden.
The outpouring of love and support for Bolden’s reunion tour was not a big surprise considering how many of his longtime Patriot pals were crushed when Bolden signed with the Dolphins after being cut by the Patriots following training camp in 2018.
“We’re pretty good friends, so that one hurt,’’ said Nate Ebner, who came into the league with Bolden in 2012. “I called him and we handled it, but it sucked. It stings a little more when you lose one that you’re really close to and you’ve built a good relationship with — not only him but his family.’’
Slater, who said Bolden puts “a smile on my face at least once a day,’’ also was devastated to see Bolden head south.
“It was tough. I don’t even say that because of football. I mean, Brandon’s been one of my biggest supporters personally over the course of my career,’’ Slater said. “From a friendship perspective, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see him every day.’’
The move was rough on Bolden, as well.
“It was tough, of course. It was just one of those decisions I had to make for my family,’’ he said. “It was tough leaving those guys after being with them for so long. It was hard. It was kind of like one of your brothers was leaving for college. It was just one of those tough goodbyes.’’
The goodbyes turned to hellos after Bill Belichick reached out to see about a second tour of duty in Foxborough. Bolden remembers that first call fondly.
“It just kind of went, ‘Oh, you still know my name, hey how you doing?’ ’’ Bolden said with a chuckle. “We didn’t even have to get reacquainted. We just had a real gentleman’s conversation. We got everything sorted out and I’m back.’’
Bolden’s one-year hiatus is a distant memory now — Slater said the team likes to act like last year “never happened” — and as always, he’s providing a spark.
“He is an energy guy. That thing I said about a smile on my face? He does that for everyone in here,’’ said Slater. “He’s always positive, never complains, thankful for his opportunities, always brings an excitement to the practice field, the locker room, the weight room, and then the big plays he makes during the game sparks our team. Whether it’s a big hit on a kickoff, blocking a punt, scoring a touchdown as he’s done lately, really gives a boost to our football team.’’
Bolden has embraced the energy guy label.
“I won’t turn it down,” he said. “I just have a great attitude about everything. Those guys are the guys that have helped me kind of figure out how to tackle those things and go about my business. They all know my story and what I’ve been through. So, when they see me coming in with such an upbeat attitude, sometimes they feed off that. Everybody doesn’t always sleep well or whatever is going on, or they might be having family problems and stuff. But the locker room, that’s a place where we can all get away and just be football players for a split second. So, you know, whatever I can do to try and help everybody get those juices flowing and make sure everybody gets in the right frame of mind to get some work done, that’s what I’ll be.’’
Bolden, who holds the unofficial title of locker DJ — his taste in music goes from old school disco to the latest hip-hop hits — and has a top-notch collection of novelty T-shirts, also has one of the best — and most fitting — nicknames on the team: “Hulk Smash.’’
The name was born at the University of Mississippi when then-teammate Kentrell Lockett witnessed Bolden transform from running back to rampaging beast after a particularly rough practice.
“I was kind of upset when I got to the locker room and I was just kind of putting my stuff away and we had the lockers that opened up from the bottom and when I went to open mine, I just ripped it open without putting my combination code in and it was locked,’’ Bolden said. “I just ripped it open and I ended up ripping the entire bottom half of my locker off. From that point on, everybody said, let’s call him, ‘Hulk Smash.’ ’’
Already a fan of the Hulk and “The Avengers,” Bolden ran with the name, changing all his social media handles to reflect it.
Bolden also has lived up to that name on the field, often sparking his club with crunching open-field hits on special teams. This year, he’s been contributing on offense, as well, with 158 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns after the Patriots’ 33-0 victory Monday night over the Jets.
“It’s been very rewarding,’’ said Bolden. “We all put in a lot of hard work every game week. So, if I’m able to be out there, and like Bill says, if you’re able to execute it in practice then you can do it in the game it’s even that much more gratifying.’’
‘That was brutal’
Jets coach Adam Gase eschewed the obligatory postgame coach speak in assessing his team’s performance after the Patriots’ shellacking. He didn’t have to wait to “look at the tape.”
“That was brutal,’’ he acknowledged. “We didn’t do anything right, all three phases we were bad. Just a bad performance. Can’t play that way against these guys.”
After the Jets won the toss and deferred, the Patriots went on a 16-play, 78-yard drive and jumped out front on Sony Michel’s 1-yard touchdown. On the Jets’ ensuing possession, quarterback Sam Darnold was picked by Devin McCourty.
“Not an ideal start,’’ Gase said. “And then one bad thing after another. We couldn’t get out of our way.”
Darnold was pressured by the Patriots’ defense into five turnovers and Gase acknowledged his young quarterback (11 of 32, 86 yards, 3.6 QB rating) isn’t going to be happy when he hits the film room.
“Playing against these guys, if you don’t pick some of this stuff up early, they’re going to keep bringing it,’’ Gase said. “And it’s just going to get bad from there. Which it did. There is no disguise. They’re telling you what they’re doing.
“They’re the best one in the league right now. We helped them out a lot.”
Former Patriots offensive tackle Cole Croston and defensive tackle David Parry, both released on Aug. 31 at the end of training camp, have filed injury grievances against the Patriots, seeking full payment of their 2019 injury salaries, per NFL Players Association Records.
Neither player was released with an injury designation, and neither has signed with a team since being cut.
Croston is seeking his $408,000 injury split — the salary that would be paid to him had he spent an entire season on injured reserve — while Parry is seeking his $448,000 injury split.
Per NFL rules, the Patriots must carry 40 percent of each grievance on their salary cap. So it equals an extra cap charge of $179,200 for Parry and $163,200 for Croston. Those amounts usually don’t put a dent in the Patriots’ salary cap, but they are tight on the cap this year, with just $1.66 million in space as of Monday, per NFLPA records.
If the Patriots and the players can’t settle, the grievances will be heard by an independent arbitrator, jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA.
The extent of the injuries for Croston and Parry are not known. Croston began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and was released in late July with a non-football injury designation. He re-signed two weeks later, and spent the final three weeks of camp with the Patriots.
Patrick Chung missed his second game in three weeks as the safety continues to recuperate from heel and chest injuries. Chung missed the Redskins game with the heel ailment, returned for the Giants game, but suffered the chest injury in that one.
Chung and offensive tackle Korey Cunningham were the only official game-day inactives. Receiver Josh Gordon (ankle, knee), tight ends Matt LaCosse (knee) and Ryan Izzo (concussion), and running back Rex Burkhead (foot) were previously ruled out. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett also was out as he finished up his one-week suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
For the Jets, starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum was among their inactives. Linebackers Albert McClellan and Neville Hewitt, defensive lineman Henry Anderson, guard Kelechi Osemele, running back Trenton Cannon, and tight end Chris Herndon also were inactive.
It’s better to give
Tom Brady was out early and presented a gift to former teammate and Jets receiver Demaryius Thomas. It’s unknown what was in the small white box, but the popular opinion was it was Beats headphones. Brady is a pitchman for that company . . . Tight end Ben Watson, who made his season debut, chatted with Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner during warm-ups . . . Former Jets center Kevin Mawae, who was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, received his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.