Patriots tradition: Receivers don't just catch passes, they throw them, too

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick sometimes says a receiver's job essentially comes down to two things: Get open and catch the ball.

He soon might need an addition. They are throwing it quite a bit, too.

Sunday's 54-13 blowout win over the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium -- which players agreed was exactly what they needed -- was highlighted by a fast start that included receiver Kendrick Bourne connecting with receiver Nelson Agholor on a 25-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.

It was Bourne's first pass attempt in his five-year NFL career, and the first time he can remember throwing a pass in a game since his high school days at Milwaukie Arts Academy in Oregon.

His aerial strike came three games after fellow receiver Jakobi Meyers was 2-for-2 for 45 yards in a Week 4 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The three completions by Patriots receivers are the most of any team in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The rest of the NFL has a combined two.

Meyers, of course, was also 2-of-2 for 43 yards and two touchdowns passing in the 2020 season. And fellow receiver Julian Edelman was 2-of-2 for 38 yards last season. The three passing touchdowns by receivers since last season are an NFL high.

Belichick credits offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for knowing the right time to turn the team's receivers into quarterbacks, which is usually set up by something before it.

"Josh does a great job of mixing plays in to take advantage of the defense's over-aggressiveness, whether it's pursuit or run force or whatever it happens to be," Belichick said.

The Patriots' history of having non-quarterbacks execute passing plays goes back to the early years of Belichick's tenure.

The late David Patten, a speedy receiver, fired a 60-yard touchdown pass in a 38-17 win against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 21, 2001. The team recognized the 20-year anniversary of that play -- in which Tom Brady lateraled to his left and Patten fired a bomb down the field to Troy Brown -- as part of a television feature this past week because it was part of a game in which Patten threw, ran for and caught a touchdown.

Since that time, the team has sporadically turned to skill-position players to throw the ball, with arguably the most clutch delivery coming in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2014 regular season -- when Edelman threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Danny Amendola as part of a remarkable comeback against the Baltimore Ravens.

This past week, the excitable Bourne was amped up for the opportunity to throw, although he wasn't sure what the result would be.

"Through practice, I was kind of getting critiqued. I kind of threw it too high, floating it, and Josh kind of told me to put it on a rope," he said. "So just practicing [and] making it feel normal in a game."

Belichick said timing is a big part of the play, because the idea is to get the defender to come up, which allows the intended pass-catcher to slip behind him.

"KB made a great throw. That was like a quarterback pass," Belichick said. "It was a very well-executed play. That's always the key. Timing and playcalling are great, but it always comes down to execution, and those guys executed it well."

The Patriots (3-4) know they will need a similar level of execution, if not greater, when they travel to face the Los Angeles Chargers next Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who finished 24-of-36 for 307 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday, is happy to share the stat sheet with his fellow receivers-turned-passers.

"I think it's great," he said. "It just adds another variable to our offense."