The Vikings sent four draft picks to the Patriots to move into the 29th spot to draft Patterson in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. He was viewed as a replacement for Percy Harvin, a game-changing receiver with return ability.
Patterson flashed in four seasons with the Vikings, but did not flourish through the turmoil.
He played for two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and six starting quarterbacks. Under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Patterson reportedly lacked detail in his route running. His play improved under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, but not enough to convince the Vikings to pick up his fifth-year option.
Patterson signed a two-year deal with the Raiders, but was not retained after one season. He went to New England for a year. It was Bill Belichick who first started to use Patterson at running back.
Then Patterson spent the past two seasons in Chicago before he signed with the Falcons in the offseason.
Patterson was the returner that the Vikings thought they were getting, but never could get free for more than 470 yards receiving over eight seasons.
The Falcons’ coaching staff has cracked the code on how best to use Patterson. He plays all over the offense, but is listed as a running back.
“My day is simple, man,” Patterson said. “Wherever they tell me to go, I go. Personally, I’m just here to help the team win no matter where they put me at out on the field.”
Some days he goes with the receivers and passing-game specialist T.J. Yates.
“He’s an absolute Swiss army knife,” Yates said. “He can do just about everything. He obviously comes with receivers when we’re running routes sometimes. He’s with the backs and with the quarterback. I mean, he’s, he’s all over the place because we lined him up in so many different positions.”
Patterson likes the position confusion.
“I’m a running back,” Patterson said. “That’s my position. That’s where they (have) me at on the depth chart at running back. When my number is called to go out and play receiver, I just go out and do it. Today, I’m a running back. Tomorrow, I’m a quarterback. Come on man, I got to keep them guessing.”
Patterson, a four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler as a kick returner, is enjoying this late-career surge.
“I hope it inspires younger kids,” said Patterson, who played in the SEC at Tennessee. “A lot of kids are growing up and only trying to play one position. It’s position-less football, and you just have to go out learn it, have fun and play anything. (When) your number is called, you go out there and make a play.”
Patterson doesn’t believe that much has changed since his days with the Vikings.
“I get ready for the games just like my other eight years I did before,” Patterson said. “Nothing (has changed). Just work. Showing the coaches that I’m worthy. I hope they just continue to give me the opportunity.”
The Falcons weren’t sure they could pull off their master plan for Patterson.
“Going into it, we didn’t really realize how much of a blessing in how good he can be and how many multiple things he can do,” Yates said. “And obviously he’s had a very good amount of production so far this year. We hope to continue that in using his abilities all over the field.”
Patterson likes that his family is only three hours away.
“Every home game, they’ll be here,” Patterson said. “It’s amazing. Honestly, man. My momma gets to see her grandkids every other week. It was hard being up in Chicago and getting on flights and all that stuff. Now, they can just drive down. I know they enjoy what I do.”
Patterson, who has a pregame ritual of throwing passes into the stands to fans, was elated with his 64-yard catch that helped the Falcons beat the Saints on Nov. 7.
“It’s in the top five,” said Patterson of his favorite plays.
Credit Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and quarterbacks coach Charles London with getting Patterson to sign with the Falcons. Both were with the Bears last season and established a relationship with Patterson.
“Atlanta felt like the right place for me in the offseason,” said Patterson, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with a $1.7 million signing bonus. “I felt pretty confident in all of the coaches, the whole staff and the organization. That was a big factor.”
Patterson wants to stay with the Falcons next season, but may be playing himself into a more lucrative deal in free agency.
“I love Atlanta,” Patterson said. “That’s out of my pay (range). If it was up to me, I’d be here for the next two years. If it was up to me. But it’s not.”
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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores
Eagles 32, Falcons 6
Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25
Falcons 17, Giants 14
Washington 34, Falcons 30
Falcons 27, Jets 20
Falcons 30, Dolphins 28
Panthers 19, Falcons 13
Falcons 27, Saints 25
Cowboys 43, Falcons 3
Next four games
Patriots at Falcons, 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18
Falcons at Jacksonville, 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 28
Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5
Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12