The lowest low for Chris Olave , production-wise, was a combined three catches for 16 yards in the fourth and fifth games of the season, a loss to Tampa Bay and a victory over New England.
But after a one-game outburst against Houston (seven catches for 96 yards), there was another three-game patch where he again wasn't very Olave-like: Seven catches for 57 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 19, five catches for 46 yards against the Colts on Oct. 29, and six for 46 yards and a touchdown against Chicago on Nov. 5 that, circled around an off-field distraction (an arrest for reckless operation of a motor vehicle Oct. 23), appeared to portend a spiraling season for the second-year receiver out of Ohio State.
Add in a few communication hiccups with quarterback Derek Carr , and it seemed a stretch that Olave would match or exceed his rookie season numbers of 72 caches for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns.
The fact that he has, with the Saints (7-8) entering their regular-season road finale against Tampa Bay (8-7) on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., has said more for Olave than the soft-spoken receiver ever could.
Through 14 games (he missed one due to an ankle injury that persists), Olave leads the Saints in receptions (81), receiving yards (1,041) and receiving touchdowns (four) and has had a potent finishing kick. He has had 100-yard receiving games in three of the last four games and in his last five, he has 31 catches for 478 yards and two touchdowns, establishing himself as the Saints' go-to target.
"Just staying level-headed, staying consistent with my work," Olave said. "There's always going to be ups and downs, but it's about how you get up from it, how you bounce back from it.
"Just keeping my faith. Hard times, people usually tap more into their faith, I just stayed consistent with that and everything kind of turned around, a 180. I felt good about it."
He's had every reason to feel that way, given the rebound he has orchestrated.
"I think he's done a nice job of bouncing back," Coach Dennis Allen said. "I don't know how many 100-yard games it's been that he's had since he had that little rough patch, but he just came in every day and went to work, tried to get better. And I think he has done that."
One of the biggest improvements has been the line of communication with Carr, which each admitted needed work.
"He's always been the same guy," Carr said. "I think I just needed to learn a better way to communicate, so that we could be on the same page. Because not everybody responds the same way to certain things.
"And I think we just got better at communicating together, I think that was the biggest growth for us. Just getting on the same page because I really think he's so special. We can all see the talent, we all see the work ethic and all that, and I just want for him so bad that arrow just to keep going up."
"I think we've got it figured out," Olave said. "We found out how we deal with adversity, how we speak to each other through adversity and communication. Communication is a big thing for us. I know more now than I did early in the season and that's continuing to grow.
"It takes time to build that trust and that chemistry. It always takes reps to get better."
Reps, and fortitude. Olave had both to navigate his choppy waters and to post the second consecutive 1,000-yard season to open his career.
"We're getting better every week," he said of his chemistry with Carr. "I know he's been battling through a lot of stuff, too, through injuries, through everything. Earlier in the year, we kind of had a couple of miscues but as the season went on we kept getting better and better each week, and now we depend on each other every snap.
"I was going through a little slump in the middle of the year, but just to have 1,000 yards in 14 games is huge. You can look at it good and bad, but I know I can get a lot better, too. I know the standard is really high for me by myself, but I know a lot of other people depend on me, too. I know I can get lot better going into next year."
"I think the No. 1 thing that I've always loved about Chris is his mentality," Carr said. "You can see the work ethic, you can see all the things but then you see someone go through something. He's been through a lot this season, he's had a lot going on. And to see him continually come out here, work, communicate with me, get on the same page.
"We may screw something up in practice – that's what practice is for, we screw it up out here – but then we talk about it and then when we get in the game and then we hit it, and that's a cool feeling. That's awesome. That's hard work, and I've just continually seen that from Chris, to where now he's having a better season. He's doing more things.
"And the frustration came from, we expect so much more. I expect so much more from both of us. But the fact that it's getting better, the fact that our communication is at an all-time high, that part of it – understanding each other, where we're coming from, how we see things – it's getting better. You wish it didn't take until midseason, but it is what it is. But I've seen that growth. Hopefully we can continue it these last two games and finish strong."
That's the goal for Olave as well. He still is nursing the ankle injury sustained against Carolina on a touchdown catch on Dec. 10, but it was managed enough for him to catch nine passes for 123 yards against the Rams after sitting out a game.
"I feel good," Olave said. "I had real high goals for myself at the beginning of the year, but God always has a different plan.
"I just stuck to it, stayed consistent, got knocked down, but always got back up. So I'm excited (after) what I've been through and the adversity I've faced, and just getting back up from it."