Trailing the Atlanta Falcons 3-0 early in the second quarter of Sunday night’s game, the New England Patriots faced third down and goal at the Falcons’ 1-yard line.
Tight end Matt Mulligan took three steps after the snap and cut across the end zone. No Falcon followed him.
Quarterback Tom Brady surveyed the end zone, looking for an open receiver. Mulligan, a West Enfield native who played football at the University of Maine, was that man.
Brady fired a strike to the right – zipping the ball between two Atlanta defenders. Mulligan caught it 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) played for the Patriots, but neither one ever 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 the Patriots “just keep pulling guys in off the street, don’t they?’’
Not exactly. Mulligan is in his fifth NFL season. He has played in 52 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 – another 1-yard pass, from Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams. 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 played for 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 has 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 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.’’
Mulligan is simply trying to make himself more valuable to the team.
“I just take everything day to day,” he said. “I do what I can control and I do it the best I can. We’re all working toward a common goal, and that’s to win every week.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: