For eleven days, Antonio Brown was a member of the New England Patriots’ wide receiver room. It was one of the most tumultuous periods in recent memory: from his arrival to his first game with the team to allegations of sexual misconduct to his release on Friday afternoon. But while Brown dominated the headlines, his now former teammates all had a job to do and prepare for the upcoming game against the New York Jets.
On Sunday, the result of this preparation was on full display: the Patriots’ wide receivers looked good against the team’s AFC East rivals, with almost the entire depth chart making key plays during the 30-14 victory. New England’s receiver corps showed that it belonged in the conversation among the NFL’s best — despite all the possible distractions during the week leading up to the game and the absence of an All-Pro talent like Brown.
“We are all about playing football,” Phillip Dorsett told reporters in the locker room after the game — one during which he caught six passes on seven targets for a combined 56 yards and a touchdown — when asked about blocking out the noise coming from the outside. “We don’t worry about the things we can’t control, so we just control what we can. I am just glad we came out here and handled business today and got a W.”
Dorsett played an important role against the Jets as a member of the top-three at wide receiver alongside Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. As such, he saw considerable action and also had to step up when his teammates suffered injuries late in the second quarter: Edelman hurt his ribs and did not return to the contest; Gordon hurt his back and later his fingers but returned to the game to finish it alongside Dorsett.
“Obviously, everything is about getting a win. Things happen, you may have to shuffle some things around but at the end of the day it’s football. You never know what can happen. So I was glad to stay on point and just need to be able to adjust,” said Dorsett when speaking about his role within the offense and how it can change on a weekly basis depending on the opponent and the personnel that is available.
Jakobi Meyers shared a similar mindset as it relates to his usage. As opposed to Dorsett, Edelman and Gordon, the undrafted rookie is not guaranteed regular playing time due to his standing on the depth chart and relative inexperienced playing in one of the NFL’s most challenging schemes and alongside a quarterback — Tom Brady, you may have heard of him — whose trust needs to be earned on a daily basis.
When his number does get called upon, however, Meyers is making sure he is ready to answer — something he did against New York when he caught a pair of passes for a combined 38 yards: “They always tell you to stay ready, because if you’re not ready when they call you you’re going to have problems. I feel like I did the best I could, throughout the week preparing and just paying attention to the little details. It paid off.”
“We need to know that the ball won’t stop regardless,” continued the rookie when talking about stepping up in case another wide receiver goes down, be it because of injury or other reasons. “Whoever goes down we need to have somebody to pick it up and keep going like no one ever left. It makes us feel real good about our team, and hopefully, I can keep doing my part when my numbers called.”
“Even before then, during the week of practice, I was like, ‘Be ready just in case’. You never know what is going to happen. The game of football is a dangerous game, people get injured every day. One hundred percent injury rate, I was just making sure I was ready just in case,” added Meyers. He made the most out of his opportunity when stepping in in place of an injured Edelman and a temporarily injured Gordon.
Gordon himself, of course, delivered arguably the most impressive performance of a Patriots wide receiver against the Jets: the 28-year-old caught “only” six of his eleven targets, but he did finish with a team-high 83 receiving yards. Along the way, the second-year Patriot helped the team and his position group stay afloat when Tom Brady’s go-to pass catcher — Edelman — exited the game due to the chest issue mentioned above.
Gordon dealt with medical questions of his own, but ultimately missed comparatively few snaps. And when he was back on the field by the late third quarter, he made two of the best catches of the Patriots’ young season: first, he caught a 28-yarder on 3rd and 22 to set up the team’s final score of the day; later, he had a 22-yard reception despite multiple defenders being in good position to prevent the completion.
“At practice, our coaches practice drills with us, whether it’s swatting in front of the ball and we’ve got to make last minute catches,” said Gordon about his contested catches. “But, more importantly, I think the mindset going into every game as a wide receiver is to attack the ball ferociously. You can’t come down with all of them, but the ones that you’ve got a good chance of grabbing, you better try to grab it as best you can.”
On Sunday, the Patriots’ wide receivers did a mighty fine job grabbing the footballs Tom Brady (and for a short time backup Jarrett Stidham) threw them. They may have been flying under the radar a bit this week due to the Brown situation and all that it entailed, but they did make sure the Jets and the rest of the league knew that they did not need the perennial Pro Bowler to function as a group.