Tim Wright has found place in the end zone, and defenses are having a hard time finding him there.
Since the second-year tight end joined the New England Patriots via the Aug. 26 trade that sent five-time All-Pro guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wright has caught 23 passes. Six of them have been for touchdowns. And none of them have been from more than 17 yards out.
That close proximity continued against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, as neither of his two scores arrived from more than eight yards out.
The distance was just part of the equation, though. The fact the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder was sharing a red zone with the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rob Gronkowski did more than divide Detroit’s attention in Week 12.
It divided the field.
New England’s 34-9 win at Gillette Stadium marked the first multi-touchdown game of Wright’s NFL career, eclipsing the five touchdowns the undrafted Rutgers product caught over 16 games with the Buccaneers in 2013.
Wright has played 11 this year, and all his touchdown trips have transpired over his last seven.
The reason why is perhaps too simple to believe.
“We ask ourselves the same thing,” quarterback Tom Brady said in his Nov. 23 postgame press conference. “Every time we throw to him it’s a touchdown.”
Wright’s first one versus the then-first-ranked Lions’ defense transpired on 3rd-and-goal with 3:13 remaining in the first quarter. New England was down by three points, and to combat that, the offense dispersed in “12” personnel in an effort to spread the field as well as the variables.
Wright stepped in as the inside receiver in trips left, while Gronkowski stepped inline as the “Y” target off right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The Detroit front countered with a 4-2 nickel, shipping Josh Bynes into the middle ground and DeAndre Levy into No. 87’s vicinity from linebacker territory.
The routes weren’t elaborate. There was nothing special to be seen. Yet as Brady handled the snap, what he did see was an open man.
Gronkowski had been met by coverage left, right and overhead. Wright, on the opposite end of the ledger, had been met by a free release in the seam as the safety backed out and the zoning linebacker got caught between patterns.
And with that, he had caught a four-yard score.
A 7-3 lead was the outcome. The next time, a 21-6 lead would be the outcome.
The method of operation remained a similar one.
The Patriots were set for third down at the Lions’ eight-yard line, having returned to the “12” personnel showing with halfback Shane Vereen, Wright and Gronkowski. Only this time, with 2:42 to go in the first half, Wright and Gronkowski would be sharing one side of the field.
That would be all they’d share.
The “Y” tight end loomed in the shadow of left tackle Nate Solder, all while Wright loomed at the line three yards to his left. But where they would stand before the snap had no bearing on where they would travel after it.
Gronkowski was prepped to cut in on a slant across the middle of Detroit’s 4-2, anticipating that the linebackers and strong safety James Ihedigbo would take notice. And concurrently, Wright was prepped to plant out after five yards – and after wide receiver Julian Edelman dug around him – hoping that free safety Glover Quin wouldn’t take notice.
His hopes were answered shortly thereafter.
Brady handled the snap and the route-runners got on their way. Lions defensive end George Johnson did the same, dropping back into underneath coverage to protect against the possibility of a shallow cross or drag.
Neither was in the cards. Johnson’s underneath coverage would not protect against the depth of routes New England was about to run.
Two Lions took Gronkowski out right, and the strong safety lurked down as well. But no Lion ultimately took Wright out left, as Quin’s eyes locked on Brady and his feet kept moving.
His feet kept moving away from where his primary responsibility was going.
And with the teeth of Detroit’s defensive line either on the outskirts or five yards downfield, those forces culminated in the difference. It was a coverage breakdown. It was clear. It was six.
Brady climbed the pocket and delivered the throw to the 24-year-old converted wideout with no defender within 10 yards of him.
Wright was waiting for it. He was waiting to be forgotten.
Having caught a touchdown on 26 percent of his passes thus far into 2014, he’s making his case not to be.
“We’ll try to find him more down there,” Brady said. “He does a great job in the coverage and finds the open spots, makes the plays, so it was a big day for that.”