FOXBORO, Mass. -- Ben Coates has a simple answer for those who say he's caught fewer passes because his skills have diminished.
"Throw me a couple of balls and we'll see about that," the Patriots tight end said Thursday.
It wasn't spoken with the bravado of the title of Keyshawn Johnson's autobiography, "Just Give Me the Damn Ball." That's because Coates would prefer to be gang tackled by 11 defenders to speaking to a crowd of reporters.
And that's why it was surprising he went public with complaints he had voiced repeatedly to teammates about playing a decreased role in the New England offense.
"It's nothing new to me. I've got to listen to this every day -- every day, twice a day -- and every night," tackle Bruce Armstrong said with a laugh. "I live 300 yards away from the guy.
"So now everybody else knows what I've known for the last couple of years."
Coates made his thoughts clear after last Sunday's 27-3 win at Arizona in which he didn't catch a pass for the second time in five games. He has just six receptions in that span and 16 for the season, fourth on the team.
"If this is the way they want it, what's there to say? Just release me. Be my guest," he said.
On Thursday, the five-time Pro Bowl player said he was frustrated at the time.
"It's a little frustrating going from catching six balls a game to hardly catching any balls now," Coates said following his return to practice after a three-day break during the team's bye week. "I just got frustrated. Things I shouldn't have said I said, but that's what happens when you get frustrated."
Coach Pete Carroll said he didn't approve of Coates' comments, but didn't try to contact the player during those three days. The two met Thursday, and Coates said Carroll assured him he was still a major part of the offense.
"Things are not going the way in which I want them to go," Coates said, "but I've got to stay focused and just continue to do what I'm doing now."
For most of his previous eight NFL seasons, Coates was one of the NFL's most productive tight ends, using his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to shield defenders from balls thrown his way.
He averaged 71 receptions in each of the last six seasons, but is on track for just 32 this year.
Early in his career, quarterback Drew Bledsoe saw Coates as a safety valve in case other receivers were covered. Now that Bledsoe can read defenses and find receivers better, he's not as likely to need Coates to bail him out, Carroll said.
"He uses everything that's at his disposal," Carroll said of Bledsoe. "It's just a different time now."
Coates' timing couldn't have been worse, coming after the Patriots most dominant win of the season improved their record to 6-2.
"It kind of makes him seem selfish and he's not," Armstrong said. "He just wants to be more instrumental in winning football games."
Coates is sixth among NFL tight ends with 474 career receptions and third with 50 touchdowns.
But he knew when he looked at the team's playbook during a preseason minicamp that offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese didn't rely on throwing to the tight end as much as Coates would like.
He told Armstrong, "I hate this offense. I'm not going to get the ball," Armstrong recalled.
"I'm pretty much in charge here," Carroll said Thursday, "and I haven't seen us change anything from what we've done for two years."
One difference this year is that wide receivers Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and Vincent Brisby are healthy after missing extended periods last season. Glenn is second in the NFL in yards receiving.
Armstrong understands Coates' frustration, but chuckled at his teammate's request that the Patriots release him.
"It's the equivalent of your spouse threatening to leave," Armstrong said. "She's not going anywhere. He's not going anywhere."
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