FOXBORO — During his weekly interview on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show, Tom Brady made a point of saying it’s hard to count on young receivers. He talked about it being a challenging position, reminding everyone of its checkered history, saying, “There’s not a lot of young players who have had major contributions in our offense . . . that’s just the reality of the position.”
Translation? The 42-year-old Brady would rather not depend on rookies to pull out wins at this stage of his illustrious career.
Well, with the reality of the Patriots’ salary cap (just $2.8 million in cap space according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan) and both Josh Gordon (knee) and Julian Edelman (chest/rib) listed on the injury report, Brady might not have a choice.
If the Patriots don’t do some cap maneuvering and add to the receiving corps before the Oct. 29 trade deadline, Brady is just going to have to deal with the hand of receivers he’s been dealt. He’s going to have to count on undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers a little bit more. And after Week 9, it might also mean working in first-round pick N’Keal Harry.
Currently, the depth on the roster beyond Edelman, Gordon and Phillip Dorsett consists of rookies. It is what it is. With Edelman still not quite 100 percent and Gordon banged up, it really behooves Brady to work Meyers in and look to him if he’s open when Josh McDaniels puts him out there. Maybe Gunner Olszewski gets a few more snaps in the offense as well.
It’s not like Brady hasn’t had success with rookies or first-year players before. During Super Bowl LI, and the amazing comeback from down 28-3 to the Falcons, one of Brady’s most trusted targets was rookie Malcolm Mitchell. He caught six passes for 70 yards, five of those catches coming in the fourth quarter.
He relied on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez their first seasons as rookie tight ends. So it’s not unprecedented.
In case you haven’t heard yet – the Washington Redskins announced on Friday that veteran quarterback Colt McCoy will be their starting QB during their Week 5 game against the New England Patriots. The decision makes sense, as McCoy has experience in the offense, which is more than rookie first round pick Dwayne Haskins can say.
McCoy’s presence on the field on Sunday may bring back memories from nearly a decade ago. Back in 2010 was the last time McCoy got to start against the Patriots, and it led to one of the biggest regular season upsets in New England during the Brady-Belichick era.
Let’s roll back the clocks and set the scene: It was Nov. 7, and McCoy had one of the hottest names in the backfield that year – Peyton Hillis. Ben Watson was the starting tight end in Cleveland, and Danny Woodhead was a beloved player in New England. The Browns had a losing record (2-5), while New England was near the top of the AFC (6-1).
The Week 9 game was supposed to be a landslide victory for the Patriots. But that wasn’t the case that day in Cleveland, OH.
New England lost that game 34-14. Hillis scorched the Patriots defense for 184 yards and two touchdowns, which was the best single game rushing performance in his seven-year career. McCoy completed 14-of-19 passes for 174 yards, while also rushing three times for 20 yards and a touchdown. He had a 101.6 QB rating that day, which was very impressive when considering his three top targets that day were Mohamed Massoquoi (four catches, 58 yards), Hillis (three catches, 36 yards) and Watson (one catch, 24 yards).
Brady completed 19-of-36 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns that day. The leading rusher for New England was Woodhead (nine rushes, 54 yards) and the leading receiver was tight end Aaron Hernandez (five catches, 48 yards, two touchdowns).
Cleveland finished off the season winning only two more game after that Week 9 bout, which brought their record at the end of the season to 5-11. For the Patriots, that was one of only two losses they suffered during the regular season. They finished the regular season with a 14-2 record and lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the New York Jets by a score of 21-28.
That game was a flash in the pan for the Browns. But it has nevertheless stuck in the minds of Patriots fans. This will only be the second time in McCoy’s career that he will take the field against New England in an NFL game. Consider it a revenge game of sorts for a Patriots team and fan base that hasn’t forgotten about that day back in 2010, even if it was a meaningless day in the end.
Brady has been not-so-subtly calling for veteran receiver help because he’s thinking about tough defenses like the one he just faced in Buffalo. Antonio Brown was here, but couldn’t stay in line, so he was bounced after 11 days. Maybe the Patriots make a trade. Maybe they get Brady more veteran help.
But it wouldn’t hurt to see Meyers, at the very least, get a few more looks. The undrafted rookie receiver knows the drill and understands the dynamics. He said he knows he’s not in the inner circle of trust just yet, but he’s working toward that goal.
“Every day I get better, with just the little things Tom wants. Being where he expects me to be,” he said. “So hopefully as the season goes on, he can trust me more.”
Brady talked about the “high level of communication,” and the “high level of detail,” involved with the Patriots offense. Every receiver who has come and gone also has talked about it. “Sometimes it takes guys a few years to understand that,” Brady said.
Some catch on. Others, even veterans who have come in, don’t always connect.
Meyers was one of the best receivers during training camp. He doesn’t dispute Brady’s contention that learning the offense and what’s expected here is a different animal.
“I agree with him. It’s not like instant rice where you put it in the microwave and it comes out ready. It is a long process,” Meyers said. “It definitely takes a lot of getting used to, you have to feel your way around, and carve out your role in the offense. Just seeing how he goes about his business, and what he expects of everybody, to be with the older guys, I can just come in and learn from the mistakes, or even the success of everybody else.”
Meyers has no problem starting on the outside and working his way into Brady’s circle. He’ll make the most of his opportunities, and hope Brady keeps coming back to him.
After Edelman went down against the Jets, Brady hit Meyers twice for 38 yards.
“I haven’t always been the guy. I’m kind of used to having to work my way up from the bottom,” he said. “I’m taking the same approach here. Just grind it out, day by day, be patient for when my time is called, I’ll be ready to go . . . I want to be ready so I can show people what I can do.”
With both Gordon and Edelman hobbled, Sunday’s game against the Redskins seems like a good time to see what Meyers can do.