New England Patriots' Wideout Brandon Lloyd Is Silencing Critics with His Play

Oliver ThomasContributor IDecember 19, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 16: Brandon Lloyd #85 of the New England Patriots catches a pass as Chris Culliver #29 of the San Francisco 49ers defends in the second half at Gillette Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

New England Patriots' wide receiver Brandon Lloyd has experienced both highs and lows during his first year in Foxborough. Yet with the regular season nearing its conclusion, the Illinois product is gaining ground at the right time.

Shortly after inking a three-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots last March, analysts were raving about how the 10-year pro would be an outside-the-numbers threat in New England's passing attack.

Through the first six weeks of the regular season, New England's "X" receiver was just that, connecting with Tom Brady for 34 catches, 401 yards and a touchdown.

But following his strong start, the route-runner's production tapered off. He went six straight games without eclipsing 45 receiving yards. And following his one-catch performance versus the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 2, Lloyd found himself under the microscope.

One criticism in particular came from Patriot legend Troy Brown, via (h/t's Mike Reiss):

This is the time when they need him the most. You need to be picking up the pace right now. Your numbers should be going up. Your performance should be going up. And all those things should be getting better, but I don't think he's been showing up for Tom Brady, and Tom Brady is not trusting this guy down the stretch. He's going back to his bread and butter guys, Wes Welker, (Rob) Gronkowski when he comes back he's going to be a guy. You saw (Aaron) Hernandez on Sunday he was the No. 2 guy for Brady. Those are the guys he can depend on to get open and make plays and not be afraid to go over the middle.

Regardless of whether or not Lloyd heard Brown's remarks, the 31-year-old stepped up his play against the Houston Texans on Dec. 10. In New England's 42-14 win, Lloyd recorded seven receptions for a team-high 89 yards and a touchdown.

A week removed from a nonexistent, one-target game, Lloyd was thrown to nine times versus Houston. In Brady's postgame reaction, he reinforced his trust in No. 85, per Field Yates of

I have a ton of confidence in him. I'm not worried about that—going over the middle. He made some other big plays, one on the pass interference that got called back. He made another big play coming across the middle. I have a lot of confidence in Brandon. He did a great job.

Facing the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, the Patriots were beaten in all three phases of the game, losing 41-34. But down 31-3 in the third quarter, New England scored 28 unanswered points, and Lloyd was a big part of it.

In the losing effort, Lloyd showcased his most prolific performance as a Patriot. He was on the receiving end of 16 pass attempts, notching 10 catches for a staggering 190 yards. Although he was held out of the end zone, he registered a career high in receiving yards, besting his two 169-yard games with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

Lloyd may not be the prototypical vertical threat that the Patriots had in mind, since he hadn't caught a pass over 27 yards through the midway point of the campaign. However, over the past two weeks, Lloyd has snagged passes of 37 and 53 yards, respectively.

The 6', 200-pound receiver isn't going to rack up the touchdowns—he has four on the season. He's not going to tally a Wes Welker-esque 100 catches—he has 67 to this point. But what Lloyd will do is keep defenses honest and reel in first downs—he's converted 46 of them.

With two weeks of football left before the postseason gets underway, Lloyd has a chance to extend his hot streak, as well as his rapport with Brady. He's just 160 yards away from his second 1,000-yard season and 11 grabs away from a career-high in receptions.

Looking at the numbers, it's hard to call Lloyd's first year in New England a disappointment.