Making sense of the past, present and future of the Patriots’ passing game

  • New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick (left) greets Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia after a preseason game Thursday in Detroit. AP

  • ABOVE: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and teammates congratulate wide receiver Maurice Harris (82) after his touchdown during Thursday’s preseason game in Detroit. BOTTOM LEFT: New England receiver Jakobi Meyers catches a touchdown pass. BOTTOM RIGHT: Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham calls a play during the second half. AP photos

  • New England Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers, defended by Detroit Lions defensive back Miles Killebrew (35), catches a touchdown pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson) Duane Burleson

  • New England Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers, defended by Detroit Lions defensive back Miles Killebrew (35), catches a touchdown pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson) Duane Burleson

  • New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham calls a play during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Paul Sancya

Monitor staff
Published: 8/10/2019 6:08:43 PM

As training camp began, the Patriots’ big questions spiraled around the passing game. Rob Gronkowski retired to join the Avengers, or something like that. Julian Edelman broke his thumb. Josh Gordon was still suspended. And expecting Tom Brady’s 42-year-old body to carry a crew of second-rate pass catchers (again) seemed like too much to ask.

Two weeks later, there are even more questions: Why did Brady put his house on the market? What does his new contract mean? Will the NFL re-instate Gordon? Is Gronk the new Iron Man?

But there also might be some aerial answers. Jarrett Stidham looks like another quarterback draft find for Bill Belichick, and receiver Jakobi Meyers looks like an undrafted find. Second-year receiver Braxton Berrios has shown signs of improvement and free agent receiver Maurice Harris has shown few signs of confusion in New England’s offense.

Placing too much value on preseason performances can be foolish – remember how good Ryan Mallett looked? The same goes for reading too much into Brady’s real estate/contract posturing. So, none of those young Patriots should be making offers on Brady’s $39.5 million Brookline mansion, but they don’t need be looking for rentals outside of New England, either. At least not yet.

Brady and Gisele Bundchen putting their house on the market might not mean anything. Maybe they’re just looking to downsize. Or upsize with more helicopter pads. Then again, it might mean they’re making plans to leave the area.

Brady’s new contract will make him a free agent for the first time in his career when it ends after this season. By that time, Gisele and the kids could be living in California, leaving Brady with no family or contractual ties to New England.

The idea of No. 12 playing somewhere else seemed ludicrous for the better part of two decades. Not now. The cracks in the Brady/Belichick/Bob Kraft triumvirate have been showing for a while. Brady has skipped organized team activities the last two offseasons, he’s said he wants to be “appreciated more at work,” he didn’t sign for his usual hometown discount on the new contract and he’s been cryptic about the deal, channeling his inner Bill Parcells when he told reporters, “It is what it is.”

Even if all those signs don’t point Brady out of town, he’s still 42 years old, so the Patriots still need a plan for the next starting quarterback. Enter Stidham.

The rookie fourth-round pick out of Auburn has impressed throughout camp. He’s been accurate with his passes, composed in the pocket and comfortable in the offense. The other rookies talk about him as their leader. And in Thursday night’s preseason opener in Detroit, Stidham played like he’s been practicing.

He completed his first pass of the game (13 yards to tight end Matt LaCosse), led his team to the end zone on his first drive and finished 14-for-24 for 179 yards. Those numbers could have been even better if not for three drops, all on deep balls that could have gone for touchdowns.

During his Friday conference call with the media, Belichick was pleased with Stidham across, “all of the categories really.”

“Quick throws where the read was clear and the receiver was open and then maybe a secondary read, and then there were a couple of times where he scrambled and extended the play,” Belichick said. “He ran a couple times and completed a pass to – I think it might have been the tight end, (Andrew) Beck or (Ryan) Izzo – but anyway, there was a little bit of everything there. The most important thing for the quarterback is not to turn the ball over, make good decisions, and throw accurately, so he did all of those at times.”

Stidham’s touchdown pass on Thursday, which also happened to be his 23rd birthday, went to Meyers, who finished the game with six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns on eight targets. Meyers caught three passes from Brian Hoyer (12-for-14, 147 yards, two touchdowns) and three from Stidham.

The most impressive play for Meyers was also his shortest, a 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that made it 14-0. Meyers was pushed to the outside by the defensive back at the start of his route (defensive holding could have been called), but he fought back inside and made the catch while stumbling into traffic in a tight area. The play showed the kind of grit, hands and fearlessness Meyers has displayed all camp.

“I was getting a lot of texts about, ‘Oh I heard you were doing great in practice,’ ” Meyers told reporters after the game in Detroit. “It doesn’t mean anything because we didn’t have a game yet. So just the fact that I can go out there and show that I deserve to be here, for now, I’m just trying to keep pushing forward.”

Berrios, now in his second year out of Miami, seems to have pushed forward after spending all of last year on injured reserve. He had three catches for 45 yards against the Lions, including a fourth-down conversion, and returned four punts for 35 yards.

“I think (Berrios’s) improvement has come from his training, understanding the offense, and timing work with the quarterbacks,” Belichick said on Friday. “Those are things that he didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do last year, especially early in the season, in training camp, and then, later on, he was able to train more. But, he still wasn’t able to work with the team, so this year he’s been able to do all of those and there’s no question that that’s helped him, and helped our team.”

Harris did drop two of Stidham’s deep passes on Thursday, but he was mostly a sure-handed receiver in Washington for the last three years (40 catches for 432 yards in those three seasons), and he had three catches for 27 yards and one nice touchdown in Detroit on Thursday. Harris was being face-guarded in the corner of the end zone on the scoring play, but he adjusted away from the defender at the last second and showed good focus hauling in the 14-yard pass from Hoyer.

Again, this is only preseason. The Patriots need Brady back at a high level, Edelman back with a healed thumb and the defense to play like it did in February’s Super Bowl if they want to make another playoff run.

So, take it all with piles of salt, but winning the preseason opener 31-3, feeling good about your young backups and having a well-rested GOAT with a potential chip on his shoulder is better than … being the Lions, or just about any other team in the NFL.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20)

Stay informed with our free email updates
Concord Monitor Daily Headlines
Concord Monitor Breaking News
Concord Monitor Dining & Entertainment
Concord Monitor Report For America Education
Concord Monitor Report For America Health
Concord Monitor Real Estate
Concord Monitor Sports
Concord Monitor Suncook Valley
Concord Monitor Contests & Promotions
Concord Monitor Weekly Most Popular
Concord Monitor Granite Geek
Concord Monitor Monitor Marquee
Concord Monitor Hopkinton
Concord Monitor Politics
Concord Monitor MY CONCORD
Concord Monitor Franklin

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy

Customer Service

Social Media


View All Sections

Part of the Newspapers of New England Family