With Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett both out because of injury, the New England Patriots entered their Week 12 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys with only four active wide receivers on their game day roster. And while one of them was ultra-reliable Julian Edelman, the other three were not necessarily proven commodities: special teams ace Matthew Slater is a wideout in name only; Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry are both rookies.
Despite their statuses as first-year players, however, the two youngsters answered the call against the Cowboys. It may not have been perfect, but on a day like Sunday and given the circumstances, the Patriots can feel good about what the duo contributed to their 13-9 victory: Meyers finished the day with 74 yards on four receptions — including two third down conversions — and Harry caught the game’s lone touchdown.
“They stepped up, they had a couple of big plays,” said head coach Bill Belichick during his postgame press conference. “We still got a long way to go — but I think they’re learning every time they step on the field, practice field, game field, or even walkthrough. Certainly they made plays we needed today to win. [There] weren’t a lot of points scored, and they were involved in either the field position or the actual scoring. They did a nice job.”
Belichick’s remarks were echoed by quarterback Tom Brady, who targeted the rookie wideouts a combined 13 times and connected on five of the passes for 88 yards and the above-mentioned score: “They played a lot of plays and I’m proud of those two. They put a lot of effort in this week and they’re making improvements, that was great to see. They both came through some big plays for us, we needed it. They did a great job.”
Meyers and Harry, of course, entered the league through different avenues. While the former went undrafted and carved out a roster spot with a solid performance during training camp and the preseason, the latter was guaranteed a role on the team the moment his name was called in the first round of this year’s draft. And while an ankle injury pushed his pro football debut back until last week, Harry sure is making an early impact.
In the first quarter of the game against Dallas, he and Brady connected on a perfectly executed back-shoulder throw from 10 yards out that gave New England a 7-0 lead. The reception was Harry’s first taste of an NFL end zone, and he shared his thoughts on the touchdown in the locker room after the game: “It was a great feeling, it was a great throw. I’m just happy I could come up and make the play.”
“We’re just trying to make sure we’re getting better every day. We’re just trying to make sure when we’re out there in a game, the least we can do is give full effort and hope the rest takes care of itself,” Harry added when speaking about the progress of himself and Meyers. “I’m definitely not satisfied, and anybody that knows me knows that I’m about to turn it up a notch. I’m about to really hit the grindstone and get back to work.”
This work and the results it yields is seemingly starting to pay off, and could become a key factor for New England’s offense further down the line. It certainly was on Sunday.