Darnell Jenkins catches eyes

FOXBORO - Wide receiver Darnell Jenkins knew last night’s preseason opener against the Saints likely weighed in the balance as he left the Patriots [team stats] huddle and slid out to the left.

With the score tied at 24 and the Pats facing a third-and-11 from their own 36-yard line with 1:57 to go, a wide receiver screen was called for the player.

So when he caught quarterback Zac Robinson’s dump pass, he had an entire cheerleading corps - led by an arm-flapping Tom Brady [stats] - rooting him on down the sideline.

Jenkins took the pass, dodged one Saints defender and flew down the field with electrifying speed for a 52-yard gain. The big catch set up Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning 28-yard field goal in the Pats’ 27-24 victory.

Jenkins, a member of the Patriots practice squad at the end of last season, didn’t see his cheerleading squad. But his eyes widened when he saw the wall of blockers who joined him on the fly.

“Everyone did their job on that play,” he said of his lone reception of the night. “The play was set up for the offensive line to get out and for me to have patience. They did their jobs. They made it easy for me. All I had to do was run. And that’s what I do every day.”

Jenkins knows he’s in a tough fight for one of the 53 regular-season roster spots. The 5-foot-10, 191-pound receiver out of the University of Miami realizes any time he gets his hands on the ball, he must prove he belongs.

“Most importantly, I just right now have to play my role,” he said. “And when the opportunity comes, if the opportunity comes, I have to step up and make plays. I’m just working hard and trying to get better every day at what I do, whether it’s special teams or receiver . . . you have to let your effort and your hard work speak for your mouth.”

Did Jenkins hear Brady yelling and pushing him along as he ran down the sideline?

“No. All that was going through my head was, ‘Run!’ ” Jenkins said. “The first thing that came to my head was get as much yardage as I could. We have Gostkowski . . . just try to put it in his hands.”

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