Through the first two weeks of the NFL season, the New England Patriots struggled to produce explosive plays through the air — recording just two pass plays of 20+ yards.
That perhaps coincided with the fact that they also ranked near the bottom of the league in play-action usage, which was in large part due to 92 out of Mac Jones’ 96 pass attempts coming from the shotgun.
Speaking earlier this week, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien noted the “imbalance” in the under-center vs. shotgun split as something he hoped to improve on moving forward.
That was apparent on Sunday, as Jones was under-center on nine of their first 17 offensive plays against the New York Jets. With New England also having success in the ground game in their 13 personnel package under-center, the stage was finally set for them to strike.
With Mike Gesicki coming from right to left in motion, Jones and the offensive line sold a run to Rhamondre Stevenson. As the safety traveled with Gesicki and the rest of the Jets defense bit the fake, it resulted in a wide open Pharaoh Brown up the seam.
“It was a great freaking sell by the line with the play action and they bit it,” Brown said post game. “Mac threw a great ball and that’s just how it kind of developed. I think it was a testament to how we were running the ball early.
“When we went back to that big personnel, they think we’re going to grind them out again. Then we get a great sell and a great play-action pass.”
Once Brown hauled it in around the 40-yard line, he had one thought: score.
“Get to the goal line,” he said. “That’s all I thought when I caught it - get to the goal line by any means.”
Brown, who then celebrated with a Gronk Spike, hit a maximum speed 18.7 miles per hour, per Next Gen Stats. That marked the fastest speed he had ever reached in his career on what was the Patriots biggest offensive play of the season.
“It felt great to get the offense a spark. Definitely, we needed it,” Brown said. “Helped us win the game.”
Beyond making the highlight play, Brown was a key contributor elsewhere for New England’s offense. Beyond the consistent use of their 13 personnel package, the 6-foot-5 tight end saw increased time in 12 personnel looks to help their rushing attack.
Brown also saw several snaps at fullback, playing a key role in New England’s best rushing output of the season (157 yards, 3.9 average).
“Not a lot of experience [at fullback], but I’m a football player,” Brown explained. “I just want to play football. So, whatever they ask, the opportunity to get on the field, I’m all for it. I was a fullback, tight end, the more you can do.”
Sunday’s game in New York marked just the 20th day Brown has been on New England’s roster as he signed on after roster cuts. Despite joining late, his early season performance will certainly earn him more opportunities moving forward.
“Just to be here, just to get on the field Week 1. Just to get the trust of teammates, coaches, to put me on the field — seeing I had no training camp — is awesome,” he said. “Just continue to build on that.”