FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Christmas came early for seldom-used Patriots tight end Matt Lengel, who caught his first NFL pass — for a touchdown, no less — in New England’s 41-3 beatdown of the Jets on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Lengel, who is in the Patriots’ lineup only because of Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending back injury, ran a seam route from the left of the Patriots’ formation and beat single coverage from safety Justin Burris. His 18-yard catch in the end zone gave the Patriots a 20-0 lead with 2:40 left in the first half.
Lengel was an undrafted tight end out of Eastern Kentucky in 2015 and was on the Bengals’ practice squad as a rookie. He again was on the Bengals’ practice squad in 2016 but was signed to the Patriots’ active roster on Nov. 2.
At 6-7, 266 pounds, he’s the kind of big target Tom Brady likes to throw to, and he finally made his presence felt in the passing game.
“Matt’s been ready to go all year, and he’s been working really hard ever since he got here, and I’m super-proud of him,” said fellow tight end Martellus Bennett, who also had a touchdown reception against the Jets. “It’s a great Christmas present for him.”
Lengel said he felt ready to make a big play.
“I feel like when you’re in the moment, things are a lot slower,” he said. “It’s not until after where you kind of enjoy it. I turned and saw the ball and tried to revert back to everything I’ve learned and ever known since second grade playing football. Just catch the ball, secure it and make the catch.”
Said Brady: “That was pretty cool. I would say he really wasn’t the first option on the play, but he sprung free and it ended up being a big play in the game.”
Lengel played a career-high 23 snaps in helping the Patriots improve to 13-2.
“I try to come in and do everything necessary that I know is going to help the team,” he said. “That’s all I wanted to do, and when I came in here, that was my goal. Just come in and help the team in any way I could.”