PITTSBURGH — Two games into the 2022 campaign, the New England Patriots’ marquee offseason addition has been largely invisible.
DeVante Parker has been on the field plenty. Between the Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins and Sunday’s 17-14 win over the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium, he’s played more offensive snaps than any other New England skill player. But the veteran receiver’s connection with quarterback Mac Jones has yet to bear fruit.
Jones has thrown Parker’s way a total of four times this season — four targets in 109 offensive snaps for the wideout. Those passes have yielded more interceptions (two) than receptions (one). Of the 10 Patriots players Jones has targeted at least once, Parker’s 9 receiving yards rank ninth, ahead of only running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
The contested catch ability Parker flashed in training camp — a skill that’s allowed him to carve out a successful NFL career despite regularly ranking near the bottom of the league in average separation — has been notably absent in the early weeks of the regular season. In each game, a downfield heave from Jones to his expected No. 1 wideout has been picked off by an opposing safety.
Against Miami, it was an end-zone jump ball that Parker didn’t jump for, allowing Xavien Howard to tip the ball to teammate Jevon Holland for an INT. Asked about the play after that game, Parker said: “I should have high-pointed it, but I didn’t.”
“I just kind of misjudged it,” he said at the time. “The next time, I’ll go up for it.”
Faced with a similar situation one week later, Parker again stayed planted on the ground. Running a vertical route out of the slot, he had a step on trailing linebacker Robert Spillane but was undercut by Minkah Fitzpatrick, who knifed in for the interception.
That turnover appeared to be more on Jones than on Parker, with the QB lofting a dangerous pass into an area he should have known Fitzpatrick — one of the league’s top play-making defensive backs — was patrolling.
“The one interception wasn’t good by me,” Jones said postgame. “But I’ll get that cleaned up and make sure we see it all the way through, what we wanted to do that play.”
The two also failed to connect on a third-down back-shoulder attempt early in the fourth quarter, with Jones’ pass skipping short of Parker.
Parker, who spent the last seven seasons with Miami, told NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry after Sunday’s game that he hasn’t had any trouble picking up the Patriots’ offense. But he’s appeared confused at times before the snap, including on one third-and-8 against Pittsburgh. New England took a delay of game penalty on that play, couldn’t pick up the necessary yardage on third-and-long and had to settle for a chip-shot field goal.
“I’m progressing pretty well,” Parker told Perry. “I’m doing what they’re asking me to do. That’s all you can do. Do your job. … It’s still early in the season. As long as we’re getting W’s and we’re winning as a team, that’s really all that matters to me.”
The Patriots are expecting Parker to be the physically imposing perimeter receiver that N’Keal Harry never became, and he has not achieved that thus far. In fact, he’s caught fewer passes for fewer yards than Harry — the infamous 2019 draft bust whom New England flipped to Chicago for a ham sandwich this summer — did in his first two games last season (two for 19)
New England got quality contributions from fellow wideouts Nelson Agholor (6-110-1) and Jakobi Meyers (9-95-0) on Sunday, but its offense has lacked explosiveness through two weeks. For that to change, they need more from Parker — and Jones.