FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — To step into Martellus Bennett’s world is to be in a place that is both spontaneous and full of introspection.
In his first season in New England, the Patriots tight end has brought a mellow vibe and unique personality to an organization that usually shies away from individuality.
Yet, as he prepares for the first AFC championship appearance of his nine-year career, Bennett could play a vital part in whether the Patriots get past the Steelers on Sunday and earn the franchise’s ninth Super Bowl berth.
But the player who calls himself “a black unicorn” said he isn’t allowing himself to get caught up in any championship fantasies or letting the moment affect an approach that has been unchanged since he was traded by Chicago to New England this offseason.
“The triple C’s is how I am: cool, calm and collected. I kind of roll with it,” Bennett said. “Football is such a roller coaster that I just try to streamline my emotions.”
With Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve following season-ending back surgery since early December, Bennett, 29, has stepped up nicely. His career-high seven receiving touchdowns led the team during the regular season, and his 701 receiving yards were second to Julian Edelman’s 1,161 yards.
Bennett has endeared himself to his new team in other ways. He’s drawn the praise of the coaching staff by becoming a dependable blocker in the run game, and on a few occasions being there to defend teammates during on-field skirmishes.
The most notable example of the latter came during the Patriots’ October win over Cincinnati when Bennett got in Vontaze Burfict’s face after Burfict stepped on running back LeGarrette Blount following his late-game touchdown.
In the locker room Bennett has remained an engaging presence, which combined with his production has earned him respect from rookies to captains alike.
“I don’t have a word to describe his personality, but I can guarantee that every person in that locker room loves Marty,” Patriots linebacker and defensive captain Dont’a Hightower said. “The emotion and excitement that he brings in here is definitely much needed on a day-to-day basis because working here isn’t always the easiest thing or comfortable thing.”
Coach Bill Belichick says Bennett’s work ethic has also aided his fitting in.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect in there,” Belichick said. “Guys are different, but that’s OK.”
It also helps that Bennett is treating this year’s playoff run like it was his first, even though he did appear in two playoff games with Dallas during the 2009 season.
Bennett said he remembers “nothing” about that experience, but only because he thinks he didn’t have a full appreciation of it as a 22-year-old still learning about life in the NFL.
“I think the best way to say is I don’t think I wasn’t totally present at the time,” he said. “I was young. Right now I’m totally present and I’m in the moment. … It’s all about being in the now.”
Part of that is by not trying to be another Gronkowski. The two have developed a friendship since Bennett’s arrival and have continued to interact since Gronk’s surgery. But Bennett said he hasn’t tried to pick Gronk’s brain too much about football lately.
“I’ve been in the game nine years, so I know how to play football at this point,” Bennett said. “Sometimes we talk about that stuff. But Gronk is busy getting his body back in shape. He has a lot of stuff to take care of so he can come back and perform for us when he is able to come back.”
Also on the backburner for Bennett are thoughts about his future in New England. Part of the reason he was traded after three seasons in Chicago (which included a Pro Bowl spot in 2014) was the Bears’ unwillingness to offer him a contract extension.
“We’ll figure it out when it’s time to figure it out,” Bennett said. “But my family loves it here. I love being a part of this team, this organization and this city, so when it comes around, it comes around.”
In the meantime, all his energy is going into football.
“That’s why I came here, to play good football,” Bennett said. “I’ve been able to play good football for a long time and now it’s just another game that I can show them again . that I can contribute and play football. That’s all it’s really about for me.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.