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Three is the magic number: Old friend Jabar Gaffney happy to be back in New England

06.07.12 at 8:18 pm ET

FOXBORO — Over the last year or so, both Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick waxed nostalgically about what Jabar Gaffney brought to the table when he was in New England between 2006 and 2008: solid, smart and utterly dependable, the Patriots have has enjoyed success in the passing game since he left, but never could replace Gaffney as a No. 3 receiver.

So when the opportunity to pick him up again came around this offseason, the idea of Gaffney back with the Patriots almost made too much sense, to both New England and Gaffney.

‘€œYou go other places and you realize what you had, what you had here with coach Belichick,’€ Gaffney said after Thursday’€™s OTA session in Foxboro. ‘€œHe’€™s a one of a kind coach, and coming back here, he reminded me of that real quick.’€

Gaffney was cut loose by the Redskins earlier this spring — he called it a ‘€œshocker,’€ especially after he finished the 2011 season with career-highs in catches (68) and yards (947) with Washington — but said that when it came to finding a new place to play, there wasn’€™t much of a debate.

‘€œIt’€™s one of the only places I’€™d like to be,’€ Gaffney said. ‘€œI loved it here during my time and when I got cut and [the Patriots] called and Coach Belichick called and told me that we could work it out. This is where I wanted to be.’€

Considering his experience in New England, it’€™s no surprise the 31-year-old was anxious to return. Gaffney caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots, and provided depth as the No. 3 receiver. While others struggled in that role (Joey Galloway, Chad Ochocinco), Gaffney was able to flourish, and became the best and most consistent pass-catcher the Patriots have had at that spot since Brady assumed the starting quarterback job in 2001.

Back in his familiar No. 10 with the Patriots, he said Thursday he’€™s a different guy than the one who left New England following the 2008 season — both on and off the field.

‘€œ[I’€™ve] grown up a little bit more. Learned a lot more about football — the more you play, the more you learn,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™ve been able to put what I’€™ve learned in other places and bring it back here and hopefully, it can turn into a lot of success here as well.’€

One thing that hasn’€™t changed is his connection with Brady, It’€™s clear that after watching three OTA sessions this spring that the receiver has been integrated back into the New England passing game. Part of that is due to the fact that when he left for Denver following the 2008 season, Josh McDaniels (who worked as the Patriots’€™ offensive coordinator) left with him to become the head coach of the Broncos. Now, McDaniels and Gaffney are together again, reunited with the Patriots.

That extensive background with McDaniels will likely provide Gaffney with an edge in a busy wide receiver crowd.

‘€œIt helps out,’€ he said when asked about his history with McDaniels. ‘€œIt helps out, knowing the offense, because that’€™s the No. 1 thing. You have to know what you’€™re doing, or coach is not going to put you out there. That helps. But the competition helps bring out your best.’€

Then, there’€™s the continued connection between the receiver and the quarterback.

‘€œWe have a great relationship, on and off the field,’€ Gaffney said of the quarterback. ‘€œOn the field, we just have that rapport with each other and he knows where I’€™m going to be and I know he’€™s going to put it right there. I have all the confidence in him [and] he has all the confidence in me. That’€™s a great thing.

‘€œWe picked right back up and got out there and got to work. Start building that relationship back up again,’€ Gaffney added. ‘€œBrady’€™s Brady. He’€™s looking good. He’€™s looking good. And he’€™ll continue to get better and pick everybody else up and make everybody else improve, too.’€

Gaffney has had a curious career. Despite the fact that he’€™s played for a wide variety of quarterbacks in his 10 years in the league, the Florida product has seen his numbers steadily climb over the course of his career, going from 400-plus receiving yards in three of his first four seasons in the league to his current string of 700-plus yard seasons.

The Patriots hope that trend will continue in his second tour with New England.

‘€œ[I’€™m] just trying to continue to get better. Continue to work hard, and let my play speak for itself,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™m just feeling good. Working hard and continuing to get better.’€

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