The New England Patriots missed Quincy Enunwa in 2017.
But they weren’t exactly missing him.
Enunwa, who was placed on injured reserve that August due to a bulging disc in his neck, had caused problems for New England’s defense over his previous three encounters. And at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, those problems didn’t arise because of oversight.
The New York Jets wide receiver proved easy to see.
And hard to handle.
“Yeah, he sure is,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters during his press conference Tuesday. “He’s really tough with the ball in his hands. He’s a strong runner, runs through a lot of tackles, good balance, hard guy to bring down. He’s a hard guy to match up on.”
Enunwa’s career against the Patriots has seen him align outside the numbers, in the slot, in the backfield and in impostor territory at tight end. It’s seen him take a jet sweep off the right tackle for 12 yards. It’s seen him catch eight passes on 14 targets for 208 yards and one touchdown.
The accumulation started in December 2015.
Then-Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick sent the ball Enunwa’s direction on a post-corner pattern versus Malcolm Butler that fell incomplete that afternoon in East Rutherford. But the sigh would depart in the second half, when No. 81 and crossed through three levels of Patriots tacklers on a quick-out.
He’d be corralled 21 yards later.
A seam route that ricocheted out of harm’s way arrived next for Enunwa. Then came his last look of the game.
He’d make that last look, a wheeler down the left sideline in overtime, count. It wound up going for 48 yards opposite a Patriots secondary that included Leonard Johnson at cornerback and Tavon Wilson at safety.
New York won by a score of 26-20 only three snaps later.
The 2016 meetings, even in Jets defeats, would also provide some scares.
With Fitzpatrick and Bryce Petty under center that November and December, Enunwa drew coverage from Butler, Eric Rowe, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Devin McCourty, among others from New England’s defensive backfield.
He found himself the intended recipient on a sit-down toss to the slot, as well as a seam, a post, an out, a flat, a couple overs and another couple go patterns. Chunk plays of 21, 22, 23, 30 and 40 yards followed – along with a touchdown versus Butler in the upper 90 of the end zone.
Enunwa had 109 yards against New England that November before quieting down with 30 yards in December.
Time will tell just how quiet he is some two years later. But expect either rookie Sam Darnold or veteran Josh McCown to try to find out during Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET kickoff at MetLife Stadium.
“I mean, it’s hard to find guys that are 225 pounds that are as fast and strong as he is,” Belichick said of Enunwa, who clocked the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Yeah, he’s tough. Good blocker, physical player.”
On depth chart that currently includes Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Rishard Matthews and Charone Peake, Enunwa has been held to 67 receiving yards over his last four appearances. But he tallied 278 receiving yards and a TD through his first four of the season before being sidelined with an ankle injury.
And he still ranks fourth among qualifying wideouts and tight ends in yards after the catch, according to Next Gen Stats, with an 8.9 average.
Enunwa is a bit of both. The Patriots know he can be a bit of a running back, too.
“He can run with it. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s tough, he’s got good balance,” added Belichick. “He’s a good runner. Call him whatever you want. He’s hard to tackle.”