New England Patriots 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry finally made his NFL debut Sunday, and the timing couldn’t have been better. The Patriots needed Harry in their 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Harry began the Week 11 Super Bowl LII rematch with a limited role. He played just five snaps in the first quarter, all of which on running plays. He played just four snaps in the second quarter, in which he caught his first career NFL pass, an 11-yard grab on second-and-10 for a first down. Watch it here.
It wasn’t overly shocking to see Harry catch his first pass on a slant route. Harry is similar to former Patriots receiver Josh Gordon as big, prototypical X-receivers who can pick up yards after the catch. Harry ran the route as an X-receiver and spent most of Sunday’s snaps in that role.
Harry’s next snap came after starting wide receiver Phillip Dorsett suffered a head injury on a touchdown catch thrown by fellow wideout Julian Edelman. The 21-year-old was used as a slot receiver, blocking on running back James White’s ensuing successful two-point conversion carry.
After Dorsett went down — and eventually was ruled out for the rest of the game — Harry became a full-time player. He played 11 snaps in the third quarter and 14 plays in the fourth quarter.
Harry’s second catch came on first-and-10 with 9:17 left in the third quarter. The Patriots called a bubble screen for Harry, and he picked up 4 yards. He next was targeted on second-and-6 with 11:48 left in the fourth quarter. He ran an in-route from the X-receiver spot. Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby broke up the pass.
The rookie’s final target and catch came with 5:46 left in the game on second-and-8. Harry ran a curl from the X-receiver spot. Tom Brady couldn’t find anyone open and narrowly avoided a sack, so it became a scramble drill for receivers. Harry didn’t move from his spot despite the fact that he had some space available upfield. Brady eventually threw to Harry for a 3-yard gain. Watch it here.
It certainly wasn’t a spectacular outing for Harry, but it also wasn’t bad. Harry did what you would expect from a rookie in his first pro game. Including penalties and the two-point conversion, Harry played 32 snaps. He played the X-receiver spot on 27 of those snaps and in the slot for five of them. He ran six deep routes, five curls, four in-routes, two slants, one out-route and one bubble screen. He also blocked on 13 snaps including screen passes to White and tight end Ben Watson.
Harry only should improve moving forward from Sunday’s debut. He didn’t show his physicality or after-the-catch ability. It seemed there was at least one snap where Harry was Brady’s first read, but the QB didn’t quite trust the rookie since he was wasn’t looking back at the quarterback for the ball.
That trust only can form and improve moving forward. Brady and Harry have six more games to build chemistry until the postseason begins. The Patriots take on the Dallas Cowboys next. A source told NESN.com Dorsett isn’t expected to miss time with his head injury. If Dorsett can’t play in Week 12, however, Harry and Jakobi Meyers likely would share No. 3 snaps behind Edelman and Mohamed Sanu.
Some other notes from Sunday’s game:
— Watson is becoming a weapon in the Patriots’ passing game. He caught three passes for 52 yards, including an impressive contested 19-yard reception with 4:12 left in the second quarter on a seam route. Watson laid out for the pass. There’s no way Brady would have thrown that ball if Matt LaCosse or Ryan Izzo were in that situation. Watch the play here.
Here’s how Bill Belichick broke it down:
“It was in the high red area. We were in a three-by-one formation. (Rex) Burkhead went in motion, and … the Eagles had to kind of slide over and adjust to that. And when the linebacker went inside to take LaCosse, then Ben was able to kind of work up the field on (Eagles cornerback Avonte) Maddox. Tom made a good throw. It was too far outside for the safety to get it and too far up the field for Maddox to get it, so it was really a good throw, a good catch.”
— It was surprising that Sanu wasn’t more involved in the offense after catching 10 passes for 81 yards in his second game with New England. Sanu only was on the field for 41 of 74 snaps and caught two of four targets for 8 yards. He also had an 8-yard carry and three punt returns for 23 yards with a fair catch.
— The Patriots’ defense was great again Sunday. Let’s give the unit credit for forcing the Eagles to stay on the field for 3:09 on their penultimate drive. Philadelphia took over the ball with 4:07 left in the game and turned the ball over on downs with 58 seconds left. Those three minutes seemed to go by very quickly. The Eagles ran 11 plays and picked up 68 yards. Of those 68 yards, 29 came on one pass from quarterback Carson Wentz to rookie wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Wentz went just 4-of-11 for 63 on the series. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore also was flagged for a very questionable holding penalty.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images