Patriots Notes: Why Saints Loss Was Day To Forget For Jonnu Smith

Plus: How James White's injury hamstrung New England's offense


Sep 26, 2021

FOXBORO, Mass. — Some assorted notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium:

— The Patriots wrote a pair of hefty checks to sign the top two tight ends available in free agency. They’re still waiting for that investment to pay off.

Through three games, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry have combined for 20 catches for 183 yards and no touchdowns. Though that’s more receptions than Patriots tight ends recorded all of last season, it’s not the type of production New England fans were hoping for when the team signed Smith and Henry to contracts worth $12.5 million apiece.

Sunday’s loss was an especially miserable performance for Smith. He caught just one pass on six targets — a 4-yard swing pass out of the backfield on third-and-long — and had at least two drops. On one, a pass from Mac Jones bounced off Smith’s hands and straight to safety Malcolm Jenkins, who ran it back for a pick-six.

Smith also was flagged for holding in the loss.

“We all had a tough game, and it wasn’t just him,” Henry said of his position mate. “It was all of us. He doesn’t need to hang his head, it’s time to pick it back up and prove, and have some mental toughness. I know we all have to get better. It wasn’t just on him, it was all of us.”

Jones backed the former Tennessee Titan during his postgame news conference.

“I think Jonnu has done everything right,” the rookie quarterback said. “He’s out there running, he’s out there blocking, doing what he’s supposed to do. Me and him, we’re not always going to have perfect days. Nobody is. I think it’s more about just getting that connection in practice and the timing. That comes with reps. We’ve kind of been together for a few weeks now, and we’ve just got to keep growing and turn the page on some of the bad things we did but also learn from them.”

Smith, who has just three first downs on 10 catches thus far, did not take a single game snap with Jones during the preseason, playing only with Cam Newton. Nor did Henry, who missed the entire exhibition slate with a shoulder injury.

Henry caught five of his six targets Sunday but finished with a modest 36 receiving yards. He also committed a costly penalty, jumping offsides on fourth-and-1 just outside the New Orleans red zone. The Patriots, who have been the NFL’s worst red-zone team through three games, settled for a Nick Folk field goal after Henry’s infraction.

“I wasn’t locked in,” the tight end said after the game. “I wasn’t locked in enough to the cadence and what we were trying to do, and that’s on me. We had a chance to score a touchdown going into the half, which could have been big for us. That’s just bad ball by me. … The pre-snap penalties is focus. You’ve got to be locked in, and I wasn’t locked in enough. I was paying attention to other stuff, and I shouldn’t have.”

Henry said he isn’t disappointed with his lack of passing-game production thus far.

“We’re trying to do our job in whatever they ask us to do,” he said. “It’s not all about always just catching the ball and making plays down the field. It’s jam protection and helping out the O-line, sometimes in full pass pro, blocking in the run game. There’s so much more to our job (than catching passes) that we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to do that better, obviously. We’re not doing it at a good enough clip for us to win games here. …

“I’m just going to do my job, and if the ball comes, the ball comes. I’ve got to win my routes when those opportunities come and make plays when those opportunities come, and I’m just going to continue to strive and get better and attack this week head-on. We got punched in the mouth a little bit today, so we’ve got to keep our head up and learn from this fast, because there’s a lot of football ahead of us.”

— The Patriots were without their starting right tackle Sunday, as Trent Brown missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury.

Justin Herron started in Brown’s place, and the Patriots’ O-line struggled as a unit, allowing nine quarterback hits in the first half and 11 overall.

“We’ve just to go be better,” center David Andrews said. “Better in everything we do.”

“It’s not good enough,” Henry added. “We’ve got to be better, and it wasn’t good enough. We have to keep him upright. When he’s upright, he’s making some good throws. We’ve got to be better.”

Linebacker Josh Uche, the team leader in sacks entering Week 3, also sat out after being limited in Friday’s practice with a back issue, and rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson was among several healthy scratches.

Stevenson likely will draw back into the lineup next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers unless James White, who was carted off with what appeared to be a significant hip injury, makes a surprisingly speedy recovery.

— After playing just two offensive snaps over the first two games, special teamer Brandon Bolden essentially took over White’s role after his injury. He couldn’t match White’s production, though, finishing with -1 rushing yards on three attempts and going without a target until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Patriots struggled to run the overall, with lead back Damien Harris managing just 14 yards on six carries and playing sparingly after halftime. Jones finished as New England’s leading rusher with 28 yards on six attempts, including a 12-yard scramble that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne.

Thumbnail photo via Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal via Imagn Content Services
New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden
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