The last time Malcolm Mitchell left the site of a game that mattered, he did so nonchalantly. He carried a to-go plate in one hand, a half-eaten wing in the other.
He'd just caught six passes for 70 yards and helped the Patriots win Super Bowl LI. I spoke to him about how two weeks prior, on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, he hadn't been playing like a guy who would come up with some of the most critical plays in the last game of the season. He'd been dealing with some drops. He admitted they were probably the result of over-thinking his Super Bowl prep.
Mitchell was thankful, remembering how he flipped the switch, that Tom Brady pulled him aside at the time and told him to focus on one play at a time. Mitchell smiled, strolling through the bowels of NRG Stadium in the direction of the team's Super Bowl party as one of its most promising young players fresh off a championship.
At that point, who knew how many more big-game performances Mitchell would put together over the course of his career?
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As it turned out, he wouldn't play in another game outside of a preseason contest in Houston the following summer. Mitchell announced at an event at the University of Georgia this week, more than two years after that clutch performance against the Falcons, that he was retiring from football.
He followed up his announcement with an instagram post that read in part, "Everything will work out."
There are moments beneath grabbing a breath of fresh air that those too close don't care for, and all we've endured has not prepared us for the things to come, good or bad. Whatever you do, do it with creativity, fluidity, sophistication, fearlessness and for the culture crashers. Everything will work out. The world has a knack for correcting itself.
A post shared by Malcolm Mitchell (@money_mitch26) on Mar 23, 2019 at 6:51am PDT
Mitchell's knees wouldn't allow him to continue his career after spending a portion of last offseason with the Patriots. Though he's been gone for almost a full calendar year, his absence is still felt at One Patriot Place.
The fourth-round pick in 2016 - who fell that far in part because of injury concerns - was the most productive rookie receiver the Patriots had featured since Deion Branch in 2002. Receiver remains among the most glaring needs on the Patriots roster as they work to build around Julian Edelman.
Mitchell's football career was short-lived, but his one year in New England - and in particular that one night beating up on Falcons corners - has given him a platform to serve as a literacy advocate. He's written children's books and continues to speak about the importance of reading for kids from all walks of life.
Mitchell may be done with the game for which he's known, but his retirement announcement certainly won't be the last we hear from him.
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