After missing the previous two games because of a concussion, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster made his return to the New England Patriots offense in Week 8. But while the offseason acquisition was made a part of the game day roster against the Miami Dolphins, he ended up playing only a minor role in the 31-17 loss.
Smith-Schuster was on the field for 18 of a possible 53 offensive snaps on the day, and caught one 3-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. However, all of his snaps came in the second half with the team opting to use other players ahead of him early on in the game.
“We played multiple people,” said head coach Bill Belichick matter-of-factly when asked about Smith-Schuster’s light workload. “We can’t play everybody.”
The wideout himself took a diplomatic route after the game.
“It’s what the coaches — it’s the decision they made with the players, and it is what it is,” he said. “I’ve been in situations like this before. So, just when the opportunity comes, you make the most of it.”
Smith-Schuster originally arrived in New England back in March, signing a three-year, $25.5 million contract to essentially replace Jakobi Meyers as the primary interior receiver. Eight weeks into his first regular season as a Patriot, however, his production does not look the part.
Not only did the 26-year-old miss the last two games before his return versus Miami, he also has been relatively quiet when available. His one-catch outing on Sunday was not an outlier: Smith-Schuster had caught only 14 passes for 86 yards over the first give games of the season — seeing players such as Kendrick Bourne or rookie Demario Douglas emerge as more dynamic receiving options.
Bourne and Douglas indeed hoarded snaps against the Dolphins, resulting in Smith-Schuster remaining on the sidelines throughout the first half.
“I stayed with it,” he said about watching the action from afar. “I know my boys are out there on the field, they’re going to make their plays. The guys that they put out there, the coaches have lined up, they’re going to make their plays. We all can make plays. This is why we’re here. It’s the National Football League. Like I said, when the opportunity comes you just got to make the best of it.”
Smith-Schuster’s opportunity came after the injury bug started chipping away at the Patriots wide receiver depth. First, DeVante Parker left the game in the third quarter with an apparent concussion. Then, on the first play of the final period, Bourne was lost to a knee injury.
This opened the door for Smith-Schuster to establish a presence in the New England offense again. Besides his touchdown and a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, however, that presence was once again not overly noticeable.
Maybe his outlook changes considering Parker’s and especially Bourne’s uncertain future, but even now Smith-Schuster is in the same spot he had been in before his injury: the only way is up.