After a tumultuous training camp that featured poor production, a practice ejection for fighting and a surprise preseason benching, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne did not play an offensive snap for the first three quarters of Sunday’s 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
Bourne’s first on-field appearance — outside of one snap with the hands team on a second-quarter Dolphins kickoff — came on the Patriots’ final drive of the afternoon. He was being starters Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker, No. 3 receiver Nelson Agholor and even elevated practice squadder Lil’Jordan Humphrey on New England’s wideout depth chart, with Humphrey playing a handful of snaps before Bourne saw the field.
After the loss, Bourne spoke with reporters for the first time since mid-August. He placed the blame for his lack of playing time on himself, saying he hasn’t earned the coaching staff’s trust in practice.
“I’m just not giving the coaches they want, what they need to see,” the 27-year-old said. “I just need to get better on my part. … No doubt, I’m disappointed in myself. I can be better, play better, practice better. I think that’s what it takes — just me practicing better so Coach can trust me more.”
Head coach Bill Belichick said Bourne’s lack of activity was not disciplinary, explaining it as the Patriots doing “what (they) thought was best.”
Bourne said he’s “not sure” why his playing time has dropped so precipitously. He played 51.8% of New England’s offensive snaps this season and was viewed as a potential starter entering training camp. Bourne hinted at a possible snap-count decline as camp progressed, saying on Aug. 15: “If I’ve got to be on the bench, I’ll be on the bench.”
“I’m just playing my role,” he said Sunday. “So whatever I’ve got to do, I’m just waiting for my moment. I don’t really know. I’m just waiting on the opportunity. … It’s tough. Just keeping my mind in it, though. My teammates are capable. It’s not about me at all. I’m just waiting for the opportunity. That’s all I can say.”
Bourne was the Patriots’ most explosive pass-catcher last season and their top big-play threat, setting career highs with 55 catches for 800 yards and tying his personal best with five touchdown catches, including a 75-yarder. His yards-per-target and catch percentage marks both ranked in the top five among qualified NFL wideouts. And he showed Sunday he still has that ability. His lone target against the Dolphins resulted in a 41-yard gain down the left sideline, the longest of the game for New England.
“It was good,” Bourne said of his late contribution. “Just coming in, it was cool just making a play. Just staying ready. It was tough staying — it took me that long. It was my first time (waiting) that long, but (I was) just staying ready, staying in the game, staying involved in situations. I was just ready for the moment.”
Before an earlier second-half possession, Bourne could be seen throwing with quarterbacks Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer on the sideline while he waited for his number to be called.
“I feel like I am capable, but all my teammates are capable,” Bourne said. “It’s just about being ready. My name was called, and the ball came my way. I’ve been through situations like that before, not being in there much and then coming in to play, so it was kind of normal.”
What does Bourne believe he needs to improve for his standing in New England’s receiver hierarchy to change?
“Just focusing,” he said. “Just being locked the whole time, I would say, and just making the plays that come my way. I haven’t been making as much plays as I was, so just getting back to that and just making the most of every opportunity I haven’t been making the most of. I’m just trying to get back to that.”
Bourne’s Patriots teammates still see his value. Parker, who caught one pass for 9 yards in his New England debut, called him “a big-time playmaker.”
“Whenever he comes in the game, he makes a play,” Parker said. “That’s what we need from him.”
Bourne hopes to see more opportunities to do so in the coming weeks. But he’s willing to play whatever role the team assigns him.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the team,” he said. “I’m a team guy, so just waiting on the opportunity. If I can be out there, be out there. If I’ve got to wait, I’ve got to wait. Just waiting for my chance.”