Tom Brady wanted his receivers to listen up. Even the most inexperienced lip-readers could see that from the NBC cameras that caught his sideline address.
N'Keal Harry didn't quite get the message. The rookie wideout told reporters after the game he wasn't positive what Brady said in that moment early in the second quarter.
"I'm not exactly sure," Harry said, "to be honest with you."
And that seems to be part of the issue. Harry was one of several receivers — rookies and otherwise — who appeared to have what often fall under the category of "miscommunication" issues with their quarterback.
On the second Patriots drive of the game, Harry ran a slant on third and four. He got a tug from Texans corner Bradley Roby as he broke inward, then stopped his route and fell backward. Roby got underneath Harry and intercepted Brady's pass.
Brady targeted N'Keal Harry on that third-down pick. Looks like Harry was trying to box out the corner as the ball got close. https://t.co/3Q8nBagFt7— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) December 2, 2019
After an unsportsmanlike penalty by Roby (he took off his helmet before leaving the field), the Texans were set up on the Patriots 21-yard line and were in the end zone three plays later.
Brady's interception came on Harry's 12th snap of the game. He played 22 total, according to Pro Football Focus. He did see the field on the drive after Brady's interception, and he was on the field early in the second quarter. So he wasn't necessarily benched immediately after the pick, but he hardly played. Fellow rookie wideout Jakobi Meyers, meanwhile, played 60 snaps, per PFF.
Harry wasn't interested in getting into many of the details of the play that seemed to earn him more time on the sidelines. It was his one and only target on the game.
"I'm not exactly sure what happened with that on film," Harry said. "I got to look at it on film first."
Was it something about his route?
"Not sure," he said. "I haven't watched it on film yet. I have to watch it first."
How did it feel, Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran asked?
"Um . . . I mean, I guess I could've used my body more," Harry said. "But like I said I haven't watched it on film. I gotta see it first."
Former Patriots quarterback and NBC Sports Boston analyst Matt Cassel explained after the game that Harry's route won't be one that ends up on a Monday morning meeting highlight reel any time soon.
"Your number one job [on that route] is to come down and keep coming," Cassel said. "The moment you start to slow down and throttle for that ball or slip . . . You gotta come out of that break and come flat.
"It looked like a stumble. It's an honest mistake. Sometimes it happens. But that right there led to . . . You didn't see him the rest of the game."
On the next drive, Brady couldn't connect with Meyers on a scramble drill play when Brady expected Meyers to go down the sideline and he didn't. That led to Brady talking to his receivers on the sidelines, telling them they needed to play faster, quicker, more aggressively.
Brady didn't get what he wanted from Meyers. He didn't get what he wanted from Harry on the previous drive.
Now, one week after scoring his first pro touchdown on a pretty back-shoulder play against the Cowboys, it's worth wondering where Harry goes from here.
The Texans game was one in which the Patriots offense should've put up numbers. Houston had the worst red-zone defense in football coming in. The Texans owned the 31st-ranked third-down defense in football coming in. Harry had a gaffe and couldn't find his way back on the field consistently at a time when the Patriots desperately needed passing threats.
Harry seemed to have a relatively positive outlook on where he needs to go from here. But it looks like he's a long way from being the passing game answer a first-round pick might be expected to be.
"I know for me, I just gotta execute better," he said. "I gotta do a lot of things better. The little things. That's what I'll be focused on moving forward."
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