FOXBORO — The two game-worn footballs made Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins light up with excitement as they were placed into his locker last night.
On white athletic tape wrapped around each ball, one read “No. 85, KT, TD 1” and the other “No. 85, KT, TD 2.”
That No. 85 was Kenbrel “KT” Thomas, and each ball represented not just the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but a sign that the Patriots and their fans had been waiting to see since Wes Welker took his Hall of Fame hands and moved to Denver.
With Thompkins grabbing his first two career touchdown passes and Aaron Dobson making a game-high seven catches, the Patriots’ rookie receiving duo finally showed life their squad so desperately needed.
It may not have been a masterpiece.
It may have lacked the sheer precision of Tom Brady-to-Welker, the pure brilliance of Brady-to-Randy Moss and the telepathic link of Brady-to-Deion Branch.
But after a week of abuse from anyone with a microphone or computer and three months of questions whether New England had anyone that could make a play, the two youngsters made the lowly Buccaneers pay last night.
It wasn’t picture perfect, but it was a big step in the right direction for Thompkins and Dobson.
And don’t forget, this was against a Tampa Bay team featuring former All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
“If I were them I know I’d be feeling pretty good after this game,” said fellow receiver Julian Edelman. “Kenbrell had two big touchdown catches and AD (Dobson) stepped up with some big first downs on third and fourth down. They have been working hard in practice and doing good things, so they were able to execute on game day.”
With the Patriots trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter and in need of a spark, Tompkins provided it when he hauled in a short pass over the middle, shook a defender and sprinted into the end zone from 16 yards out for the first touchdown of his career.