FOXBORO -- Donte' Stallworth's season lasted just twenty plays, the last one an electrifying one-handed catch-and-run that resulted in a 63-yard touchdown to help the Patriots beat the Texans on Monday night, 42-14.
It was a proud moment for him. After being released at the end of Patriots training camp, he spent three months waiting for a chance to join an NFL team. When the Patriots finally brought him back, he worked around the clock with hope that he would make an impact against Houston, and he did.
His adrenaline was pumping after the score. He was excited to make such a grand entrance back into NFL relevance.
Then he got to the Patriots sideline.
"When I sat down it felt like somebody lit a blow torch on my foot," he said. "That's when I realized something wasn't right."
Stallworth suffered what he says is a high-ankle sprain when he was tackled going into the end zone. He was told the normal recovery time for that type of injury would be about 3-4 weeks, and he knew, at this point in the year, the team would likely place him on injured reserve. That's exactly what they did on Tuesday, ending his season.
"Bill Belichick does a great job of communicating. He brought me in his office well before that happened and he explained to me, you know, the situation moving forward," Stallworth said. "I completely agreed with his decision.
"Later in the season once you hit December and the end of November, that window kind of closes a little bit. I completely understand why he did it . . . I wasn't disappointed to be going on IR because I knew that was coming for the most part. But I was disappointed for it to happen after preparing for so hard and sitting at home for three months and coming here and getting an opportunity. But you know, I'm definitely grateful for just being here, during that week and being able to participate and play in that game. It's the season I had. I hadn't played all season. It's bittersweet being here, playing in a game, and then leaving the game and not coming back."
The Patriots re-signed receiver Deion Branch this week to help fill out their receiver group.
Stallworth, who had a noticeable limp as he walked around the Patriots locker room on Thursday, said he asked for Belichick's permission to stay around the team and rehab his ankle using its facilities.
Part of the reason he wanted to stay in New England and not return to his home in Miami was because the Patriots offer him an opportunity to receive treatment multiple times a day. The other reason was because if he had left, he would have missed the locker room atmosphere that he worked so hard to get back to this season.
"Just being able to be around the team," Stallworth said. "It's one of the things, whenever guys retire or when they're no longer in the game, that's one of the things they say they miss the most is the camaraderie and the continuity of being on a team and in a locker room. You come to become really good friends with the guys and it's similar to being family."
Stallworth said he hopes to stay on track with his rehab but he's in no rush for it to heal. Though he's disappointed at how he was hurled back to earth after the most uplifting moment of his season, he was grateful that the injury wasn't worse.
Someone sent him a picture online of how his ankle was bent awkwardly on the touchdown.
"It could have been horrible," Stallworth said. "I think that's one of the things that's helping me not be so disappointed. It definitely could've been worse, really bad, just by looking at the picture. So I just try to maintain an air of positivity around here. I don't wanna be walking around depressed or anything like that. Just try to stay positive around everyone."
This week is especially difficult for Stallworth since he grew up in Sacramento as a San Francisco 49ers fan.
"I have a lot of family and friends who are 49er fans, calling me from back home, talking trash," he said with a smile. "So you know, I'd definitely like to shut them up personally."
But he can't. It's a fact that's difficult to accept, but one from which he's trying to move on.
"You just keep moving," he said. "There's been a lot of things that have happened to a lot of good people, a lot of worse things that have happened to a lot of people. There's kids who can't eat everyday, or who aren't healthy, or don't have all their limbs. I don't look at it like I'm snake-bitten, but more so it's an unfortunate situation and try to take the positive and continue moving forward from there."