Unwavering approach leads to big day for Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry

Unwavering approach leads to big day for Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry

CINCINNATI — There was no visible hesitation before snaps. There was no uncertainty after snaps. And there were snaps. Lots of 'em. 

N'Keal Harry saw 40 plays in his team's 34-13 win over the Bengals on Sunday, dwarfing the two snaps he saw one week prior in a loss to the Chiefs. He recorded two catches for 15 yards and a touchdown to go along with two carries for 22 yards. But looking as comfortable as he did, the numbers accompanying his name in the box score belied his performance. 

"Kind of getting the groove a little bit," Harry said after. "Starting to get more confident out there game by game, play by play."

In previous games, there were moments when Harry looked like a rookie. He hesitated breaking huddles and doubled back to Tom Brady for specific instructions. He hesitated at the line of scrimmage against the Chiefs last week when he was put in motion. On scramble-drill plays in Philadelphia last month, he looked unsure of where he was supposed to be. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

On Sunday he played fast. And he did so as the Patriots used him in a variety of alignments. Before seeing the Bengals, over 80 percent of Harry's snaps came aligned out wide. About the same number of plays came with Harry aligned to the left of Patriots formations. He'd never taken a hand-off. He'd been put in motion exactly once.

On Sunday, he lined up in the slot. He lined up out wide. He lined up on the line of scrimmage and off. He took two end-around missile-motion handoffs. He motioned to sell fakes on handoffs up the middle. He ran go-routes outside the numbers and corner routes from inside. His touchdown reception came on a scramble-drill play where he had to understand the timing of the play was off, turn around, and sprint along the back end line to make himself available.

It looked like a trust-builder. 

"On those type of plays, you just have to find a way to get open," Harry said. "Whatever it takes. Glad I could do that. Thank God I could do that."

"He's fighting," Brady said. "He's been working hard for weeks to learn. He's a very hard-working guy. It's fun to see him make those plays."

Harry's best play might've actually been one that didn't count. It came during a third-and-three situation, when he cruised up the sideline and made a leaping grab up and over a defender, laying out for a 33-yard gain. It was erased after a false start penalty called on Julian Edelman. 

Maybe it was that play that gave him a shot of confidence. Or maybe it was his near-touchdown last week. Or maybe it was simply the regular day-to-day work he put in back in Foxboro leading up to the game — with coaches Joe Judge and Troy Brown, out at practice, maybe some work in the "virtual room" — that allowed him to hit another gear in his fifth game as a pro.

"I take the same approach every day," Harry said. "I really take pride in being a hard worker and being a workhorse. I just take that approach and just seize the day every day I can."

Harry's teammates saw a different player on the field Sunday, too. Edelman said Harry is "coming around, making some plays, playing faster."

"Knowing what to do," Edelman explained, is what improves game speed. "Being confident with going into a test. Knowing all the little things so you can let your athleticism come in and play. I would say that's playing fast."

At this point, the Patriots can ill afford to get less from their rookie. He's no longer a luxury item fresh off the injured reserve list that had him miss the first half of his first season. 

Edelman (41 snaps) is hurt, and he looked it in Cincinnati, catching just two passes for nine yards. Mohamed Sanu (56 snaps, more than any Patriots receiver) simply hasn't produced. He's dealt with an ankle injury, but playing a full-time workload against the Bengals yielded only two catches for 13 yards on eight targets. With two of his veteran targets having down days, Brady finished with 128 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-29 passing.

The Patriots needed Harry. Harry needed a game to get on track after he was all but benched a week ago. This felt like the one.

"It was good just getting out there, just starting to get my groove back out there," Harry said. "Felt good."

Curran's Best & Worst from Patriots' Week 15 win>>>>>

Rob Gronkowski set to compete in virtual beer pong tournament

Rob Gronkowski set to compete in virtual beer pong tournament

Who knew virtual beer pong was a thing? 

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski apparently is set to compete in a virtual beer pong tournament hosted by Post Malone to raise money for coronavirus relief efforts, according to TMZ Sports. The tournament will be live-streamed on the @ballinacup Instagram over eight days and the winners will receive a trophy and wrestling belts. 

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Gronkowski will be partnered with his girlfriend Camille Kostek, and they aren't the only familiar faces in the tournament. Former Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola and former Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin also will compete in the competition. 

The first round kicks off on Friday with Gronkowski and Kostek taking on Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and USWNT star Mallory Pugh. Amendola will take on Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on Saturday and Seguin will take on New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman on Monday, April 6. 

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

It's no surprise Gronkowski signed up to compete in this tournament -- he loves to party after all. 

This definitely is something out of the ordinary, but it should be pretty comical to watch Gronkowski, Amendola and Seguin compete to see who the king of beer pong is. 


Patriots have dominated this category since turn of the century

Patriots have dominated this category since turn of the century

The New England Patriots have been an unstoppable force over the course of the past two decades. The team has won six Super Bowls, 17 division titles, and hasn't logged a losing season this century.

One of the reasons for their success? They have been insanely good in one-possession games.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

According to Boston Sports Info (@BostonSportsInf), the Patriots have the best winning percentage in one-score games since the turn of the century. They are one of just two teams that have won greater than 60 percent of those contests. Here's a look at the numbers:

While several teams have more wins than the Patriots in these contests, it's still remarkable that the team has won two-thirds of their one-score games in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. It takes great decision-making on the parts of players and coaches to maintain such a strong record.

With Brady no longer on the Patriots, It looks like we're going to figure out just how much he has mattered to the Patriots' ability to win close games. Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer are the two quarterback options on the roster after Cody Kessler was released on Thursday, so Belichick will have his work cut out for him with either option.

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

Meanwhile, Brady's impact on the Buccaneers may be notable depending on how much they improve in this area. The Bucs have the third-worst winning percentage of the century in one-possession games, coming in at 40.2 percent. They have the second-most losses overall with 98.

Last season, the Bucs were 3-6 in nine one-score games with Jameis Winston at the helm. If Brady can help to improve upon that record by making fewer late-game mistakes than the turnover-prone Winston did, then the Bucs may have a chance to progress well as an overall team.

Either way, we'll soon see how Brady's presence impacts the Bucs and if the Patriots can continue their winning ways in close contests.