Last season, it was Jakobi Meyers throwing two touchdowns as the Patriots continued to expand their use of trick plays to provide the offense with a spark. This year, against the Jets, it was a first-drive weapon with Kendrick Bourne throwing a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor to give the Pats an early lead.
These kinds of plays have always been lurking in Josh McDaniels' playbook. From 2007's Brady-to-Moss-to-Brady-to-Gaffney against the Steelers to the Edelman-to-Amendola strike in the 2014 Divisional Roundn vs. Baltimore, the Patriots' long-time offensive coordinator has had plenty of success with unconventional plays.
On Tuesday, McDaniels explained how these plays come together.
"I usually tell the guys that we're going to rep them in practice enough and rep them long enough, sometimes for weeks, to the point where none of us feel like it's a trick," explained McDaniels. "I think once we practice it enough and, a lot of times for me, we have to see a bad look and then make a good decision in practice, not make the play into a turnover in practice and see the reaction from the players when those things happen. Once we cross over that line and feel comfortable with the decision making based on who's going to be touching the ball then I don't really feel like it's a huge risk because I trust the guys, I trust what we're doing and we've seen it on tape and we've got a lot of examples of it in practice."
Meyers again threw two passes earlier this season, something that always opens up the door in Mick Lombardi's receiver room for everyone who wants a shot.
"You put in one trick play where say Jakobi is throwing one and the whole room lights up, 'let me throw one, let me throw one,' said Lombardi. "[It was a] great call by Josh, great execution not just by Kendrick but by Onwenu on the cut block, Jakobi on the block in the slot and Nelson's savvy to beat the corner.
"Kendrick did a great job of throwing it, I was proud of him."
"I go back to my days when we had to have a throw-off," said Troy Brown recalling how passers used to be chosen. "Of course, every skill player is going to say they can throw the ball. That doesn't always work out when you take their word for it."
The offensive coordinator welcomed the input from his positional coaches.
"The coaches have great input on this," said McDaniels. "I don't go into my office and try to come up with trick plays ad nauseum every week. They all have a say in what the game plan is. They come from everywhere."
Once the play is born and repped in practice, it's just a matter of springing it at the right time, against the right defensive look.
"You can't run them blindly against every defense, that doesn't work," said McDaniels. "You have to know what you're looking for and there's gotta be a reason, just like there's a reason we run the lead play against certain teams and don't run it against others.
"I say to our players, 'if your heartbeat goes up when we call this, we haven't run it enough in practice.'"
Coaches Quotes of Note
Ivan Fears on what his young running backs need to learn:
"Everything is about that consistency and that's the thing the young guys are trying to learn. It's consistency in everything you do, from day one on Monday, straight through to the Sunday game. And if you can develop that consistency and do it consistently, you're gonna be alright. Can you get rookies to understand that? That's hard."
Mike Pellegrino on Myles Bryant:
He's been ready since day one here. He's always prepared like he's going to play in the game. When he wasn't playing last year, [he was] consistently asking about the gameplan, 'what does this mean', really in tuned questions to the gameplan, which is really, really nice to see from a rookie."
Cam Achord on Nick Folk:
"Nick is that constant, every day shows up ready to go, knows exactly what he needs to do during the week to maintain his body and get ready to go and deliver the kick he needs to deliver. That just shows how dedicated he is."