Some final thoughts on New England’s 36-20 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders as the Patriots shift their focus to this Sunday’s showdown with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs:
— N’Keal Harry had more important catches in bigger spots last week against Seattle, but the 27-yarder he hauled during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game might have been his best all-around reception of the season.
It was the first instance we’ve seen of Harry creating separation from a defensive back downfield and then using his rushing ability to manufacture yards after the catch.
On the play, the second-year wideout stopped on a dime to haul in a back-shoulder throw from quarterback Cam Newton, then turned inside to shake cornerback Trayvon Mullen.
He proceeded to slip past Johnathan Abram’s lunging tackle attempt — Abram’s tackling was brutal in this game — and kept his feet churning to pick up an additional 4 yards after being wrapped up by safety Erik Harris.
Harry tallied 14 yards after the catch on the play. On his other nine receptions this season that traveled beyond the line of scrimmage, he totaled 20 yards after the catch.
It also was the first time Harry had forced multiple missed tackles on any catch or carry this season. In fact, on his 14 other touches, he forced just one missed tackle total, failing to showcase the devastating open-field YAC prowess that helped make him a star at Arizona State (and a first-round Patriots draft pick).
The Patriots will need more of these types of plays from Harry, who finished with just two catches on four targets for 34 yards Sunday.
Newton, who took a hit from defensive end Clelin Ferrell as he released the pass, praised Harry for keeping his focus after spending most of the game blocking for the Patriots’ rampaging running backs.
“I remember vividly watching him in college,” Newton, who’s been Harry’s biggest cheerleader this season, said in his postgame video conference. “It’s just a different type of ask of what we’re asking him to do in this particular system. For him, he has to stay in the game — and he’s been in the game, making sure that he’s doing his job, whether that’s from finishing blocks, setting the edge, getting the force defender, running guys off, doing his job with the passing game. So for him, still being relatively young, for him to still be in the game when it’s time for him to catch a ball, it works hand in hand.
“So I told him on the sideline, man, I’m extremely proud of him and his growth. Because it is tough, mentally more than anything, for a young guy to come in here and try to thrive in ways that they don’t always ask for you to thrive with just catching the football, and I think that’s the biggest misconception for receivers, especially coming into this league.”
Harry’s catch-and-run helped set up Rex Burkhead’s third and final touchdown, which gave the Patriots a 16-point lead with less than six minutes remaining.
— Wide receiver Damiere Byrd only has nine catches through three games, but he’s been on the field a ton for the Patriots.
Byrd has played 89.7% of New England’s offensive snaps this season. Only 11 NFL receivers have higher usage rates:
Byrd played 96% of snaps against the Raiders (66 of 69), finishing with three catches on three targets for 27 yards. The 27-year-old was viewed as New England’s No. 3 receiver entering the season, but in terms of playing time, he’s been the clear No. 1 thus far.
Harry has played 77.1% of snaps. Julian Edelman, who leads the team in receiving yards with 259, has played 70.7%. Jakobi Meyers has played 10.7%, and Isaiah Zuber has played 2.9%.
Edelman and Harry are tied for the team lead in receptions with 15 apiece.
— The Patriots have yet to commit a single offensive penalty through three games. They’ve committed just 11 total, the fewest of any NFL team. Four were declined.
Only two other teams are below 15: the Houston Texans (13) and New York Giants (13), both of whom are coached by former Patriots assistants (Bill O’Brien and Joe Judge, respectively).
Also, with the exception of an intentional delay of game on a punt in Week 1, the Patriots have yet to take a pre-snap penalty, though their defense did need to burn multiple timeouts Sunday to avoid flags for illegal substitution. Head coach Bill Belichick blamed those mistakes on “bad coaching.”