The New England Patriots were trailing the Atlanta Falcons 3-0 early in the second quarter of Sunday night’s game, facing a third-and-goal at the Falcons 1.
Lining up at the left end of the Patriots Power-I formation, Matthew Mulligan took three steps after the snap and cut across the end zone. No one from the Falcons followed him.
Tom Brady faked a hand-off to Stevan Ridley, then surveyed the end zone, looking for an open receiver.
Mulligan, a West Enfield native who also played at the University of Maine, was that man. Brady fired a strike to the right — zipping the ball between Atlanta defenders Akeem Dent and William Moore. Mulligan caught the ball off his right hip for the touchdown that gave New England the lead in a game it would win, 30-23.
Mulligan is believed to be the first Mainer to score a touchdown for the Patriots. Dave Cloutier of Gardiner (1964) and Dennis Gadbois of Biddeford (1987-88) each played for New England, but never scored.
Mulligan celebrated heartily after the touchdown, prompting his teammates to ask if it was his first touchdown.
“It’s my second but I told them it felt like my first,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “I get excited out there, whether I’m catching a pass or making a good block. I realize that every time I take the field how blessed I am, simply to be able to take the field when there are so many people who can’t.”
As Mulligan celebrated, NBC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said, “They just keep pulling guys in off the street, don’t they?”
Not exactly. Mulligan might not be as well known as Rob Gronkowski but he is in his fifth NFL season. He’s played in 52 career games and has 15 catches for 145 yards.
The 6-foot-4, 267-pound Mulligan is known as a bullish blocker. That’s why he is in the NFL. It also worked in his favor against the Falcons.
“That’s the one positive about being a blocking specialist,” said Mulligan. “A lot of times they forget about you and you can get open.”
Mulligan’s other touchdown came just over a year ago — Sept. 16, 2012 — and was also a 1-yard scoring pass, that one from Sam Bradford of St. Louis. He was wide open on that one too.
Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots, said Monday that Mulligan is a good receiver.
“I think his hands are good,” said Belichick. “He’s a blocker, he’s tough and he’s strong. I think he catches the ball fine.”
Mulligan credited everyone else on the field for his touchdown, from the blockers to Brady making a pinpoint throw.
“Because the other guys did such a good job in what they’re supposed to do, I was able to get open,” he said. “And Tom made a great throw. I don’t think he could have thrown the ball any better.”
Mulligan, 28, has also been with Miami, Tennessee, the New York Jets, St. Louis and Green Bay.
The Patriots signed him on Sept. 3 after Green Bay cut him in the last round of cuts. He was released two days later but re-signed by New England on Sept. 10. He’s played sparingly in three games since.
“He’s a tough kid, smart,” said Belichick. “He came in here and picked things up and learned them pretty quickly.
“He’s worked hard. He hasn’t had a great deal of playing time but has been solid with the playing time that he has had. That’s the type of thing that will lead to more opportunity. He’s a hard-working guy that does his job, knows what his role is, works hard to do it.”