Of Tom Brady's 41 attempts in the Super Bowl last Sunday, seven were sent to "outside" receivers. Four were completed - three to Deion Branch and one to Chad Ochocinco. In the AFC Championship game, six of Brady's 36 passes went to outside receivers (as opposed to tight ends, slot receivers or running backs). The Patriots' offense worked pretty well in 2011 even though Brady wasn't afforded a classic "field-stretcher" who works on the outside. But that fact shouldn't detract from the reality that the Patriots did seek a viable outside threat in 2011. They spent 4.5 million in salary on Ochocinco and another 1.5 million in bonus money. That wasn't a simple donation to the Ocho Fund, they wanted a player who would contribute and were willing to pay for it. They just picked the wrong player. So it's natural to assume that the Patriots - after missing on guys like Ocho and, via the draft, on Taylor Price and Brandon Tate - will be back to take another swing at getting that position filled with a productive player. Especially since Ocho and Julian Edelman are the only wide receivers currently under contract to the Patriots in 2012. Wes Welker is a free agent but is a strong candidate for the franchise tag. The list of veteran wideouts the Patriots have tried to wring production from is long and the results are decidedly mixed. Charles Johnson, Bert Emanuel, Torry Holt, Joey Galloway, Donte Stallworth, Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Jabar Gaffney, Andre Davis, Tim Dwight and Donald Hayes all have been brought aboard at different points during the Bill Belichick Regime. Stallworth, Moss, Gaffney, Caldwelland Dwight were the best fits. The list of viable targets this offseason is long. Reggie Wayne is a prominent name and Willie McGinest said he asked Wayne if he'd be interested in joining the Patriots and Wayne reportedly said, "Who wouldn't."In related news, Wayne also likes warm sunshine. Of course he'd like to play for the Patriots. His current employer in Indiana is in disarray and the Patriots are an annual threat to win a championship. Over the next few weeks, soon-to-be-available targets like Wayne, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Mario Manningham, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston can expect to be asked what their interest level in playing for the Patriots would be. (Ever notice nobody asks these guys how much they'd like to play for the Jaguars?)Any player not answering in the affirmative would be doing himself a disservice because A) they want every other team to believe they are ready to move and B) a player saying he wouldn't want to play with Tom Brady wouldn't be viewed as intelligent. Wayne, Lloyd, Colston and Bowe would figure to be logical targets for the Patriots. This doesn't mean the other top players won't be, just that the others make the most sense. Wayne turns 34 in November and he had his five season run of Pro Bowl appearances snapped in 2011 when he caught 75 balls for 960 yards and four touchdowns. But he did that with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing to him on an awful Colts team. Wayne is precise, glue-fingered and smart. He would be, as McGinest said, a tremendous fit. Lloyd turns 30 in July. After seven uneventful seasons to start his career, he exploded in 2010 for the Broncos with 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. He credited then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels for his success and - after being traded to St. Louis during the 2011 season - he finished the season with 70 catches for 966 yards with McDaniels as offensive coordinator. Lloyd said at the end of the 2011 season, "I'm tied to McDaniels. He uses me differently than other offensive coordinators used me in my entire career. He uses me as an every-play receiver. The short game, mid-range game, gimmick passes, deep balls. I do everything in this offense as opposed to other coordinators who would just run me off as the deep guy; run me off into double coverage and then say I'm not open. So I really like how Josh uses me within the offense. I'm extremely comfortable in the offense."That would seem to give the Pats an inside track. Colston, the Saints best wideout, could be the odd-star out in New Orleans. The Saints have to keep the franchise tag available in case they need to use it on Drew Brees. If not Brees, then perhaps guard Carl Nicks. Colston may become free. If he does, his 6-3, 225-pound frame would be enticing to New England. So would the fact he's just 29 and is an 80-catch, 1,200 yard per season guy who's played in an intricate offense for the Saints. Bowe - like Lloyd - can be mercurial. But he had success in Kansas City in a Patriots-style offense and - at 28 - still has several productive seasons ahead of him. Free agency begins March 13. As another still-available wideout once said, "Getcha popcorn ready."
FOXBORO -- What could have been an awkward plane ride for Tom Brady and John Harbaugh was made less so thanks to a high school lacrosse player.
Brady and Harbaugh shared a private plane back from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh and his University of Michigan program put on an event for National Signing Day. About a year earlier, Brady told a room full of reporters that Harbaugh and his coaching staff should study the rule book and "figure it out" after hearing that they were pretty upset about the unusual formations the Patriots ran during their AFC Divisional Round win over Baltimore.
They may not have been on the best of terms.
"I was pissed off," he told ESPN's Ian O'Connor before the start of this season. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed. ... So yeah, that should never have been said."
But on the flight was Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a high school lacrosse player. When Brady took some time to share a few thoughts on competitiveness with her, he and Harbaugh found common ground.
"We had a lot of fun," Harbaugh said of the flight. "I don't know if he's talked about that at all, but we ended up sharing a plane ride along with my daughter and a couple of his people, friends of his. We just had a chance to just talk for a couple hours. And really more than anything, Alison got a chance to listen to Tom Brady talk about competing and what it takes to be great at what you do.
"And one of the funny things about it was, he was so nice to her. He gets off and they go, and we get back on the plane and we're talking, and she says something like, 'Boy, Tom really is a nice guy.' And I look at here and go, 'Tom?' I'm thinking 'Mr. Brady' would have been more appropriate. She said, 'He said to call me Tom.' I got a kick out of that.
"It was good. Lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he's accomplished. He's very tough to compete against. The best quarterback that's played, certainly in this era, without question in my mind. That's how I would rank him. And it's just another tough challenge to have to play against him."
DeMar DeRozan didn't get a chance to answer one question in his postgame interview before being interrupted by Kyle Lowry, Jared Sullinger, and LeGarrette Blount.