Bethel Johnson has what can only be described as a child's face. Round, smooth of skin, and something about the delicacy of the features--the almond-shaped eyes, the just-slightly-upturned nose, the decorous private-school haircut he always wears (not one to sprout a Manny-style 'fro or Ricky Williams dreds, he)--makes him look like a very serious, quite wildly overgrown ten-year-old.
All I can find out about Bethel is that his birthplace is listed as Corsicana, Texas, and he attended Texas A & M. A Texas boy, but what does that mean? Did he get that speed running through dusty roads in some parched town? Was he a high school BMOC? He seems to quiet for that. He seems like he's always played the role he plays on the Patriots: speak softly and carry some mean, fleet feet.
The element of surprise seems the key to Bethel's game. Belichik mixes him in, almost casually, into the special teams lineup, as well as the receiving corps. 90% of the time, Bethel runs ho-hum, 20-yard kickoff returns or thoroughly mundane pass patterns...and then there are those times.
Like last year, against Indianapolis, at Indianapolis, when Bethel Johnson, on a last-second kickoff return that in the hands of anyone else would have been a wasted play to get to halftime--to paraphrase Curt Schilling--made 58,000 people from Indiana shut up.
Or last year's divisional playoff game against the Titans, in the murderous cold of Gillette Stadium, when Bethel, out of nowhere, snagged a 41-yard pass on third-and-six to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead with 10:59 remaining in the first quarter. It was one of only two touchdowns the Patriots would score that night.
Bethel Johnson always seems to come out of nowhere. He, like many on the Patriots roster, always seems to make you say, "Oh, yeah, him" in the nanosecond before you're on your feet screaming "RUN YOU BASTARD!!"
This afternoon, beneath a buttery November sun in Cleveland, Bethel Johnson caught Browns' kicker Phil Dawson's opening kickoff in the vicinity of New England's five-yard line.
In a flash, he was in the opposite end zone, sprawled out on the orange-tinted grass, ball spiked and forgotten several yards away, and his teammates were giving his helmet a congratulatory pounding.
The game was fourteen seconds old.