FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady insinuated last week that he doesn’t totally trust the New England Patriots’ rookie wide receivers.
But on Thursday night, he had to. And they didn’t let him down.
With Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) inactive and Josh Gordon (knee) knocked out of the game in the second quarter, undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski both saw their roles increase exponentially during the Patriots’ 35-14 primetime victory over the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium.
The two saw significant playing time during the first half, then played nearly every offensive snap over the final two quarters as additional injuries to fullback Jakob Johnson and tight end Matt LaCosse all but locked the Patriots into their three-receiver personnel package.
“With the bodies we lost today, we didn’t have no choice but to trust us tonight,” Olszewski said after the game. “But I think we did a good job of showing (Brady) that we can trust us and we’re going to make plays when he throws us the ball and puts it in our hands.”
No. 1 wideout Julian Edelman handled most of the heavy lifting, leading the way with nine catches on 14 targets for 113 yards, but Meyers and Olszewski both made valuable contributions — and, in their minds, proved to Brady and the Patriots’ coaching staff that they can be relied upon.
Meyers, a preseason standout who’d seen only occasional action through the first five weeks of the regular season, hauled in two 23-yard receptions in the win, the first of which set up Brandon Bolden’s first-quarter touchdown plunge. He caught all four passes thrown his way in the victory, finishing with a career-high 54 yards.
“It’s unfortunate how we got to that point,” Meyers said, referring to Dorsett’s and Gordon’s injuries, “but it’s a blessing that we got to go out there on a primetime night and make plays. … Hopefully, we just proved to them that we can contribute more than just scout team or whatever the limited role is. Hopefully, they can see that we can go out there and make plays with the best of them.”
Olszewski, the Division II success story who made the 53-man roster as a punt returner, had less of an impact offensively but did haul in a 29-yard dart from Brady in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. It was the first catch of the Bemidji State product’s NFL career and the Patriots’ second-longest gain of the night.
“Me and Jakobi are ready every week,” Olszewski said. “We talk about it every game. Troy (Brown, the Patriots’ unofficially assistant receivers coach) is on us about it. He’s like, ‘You’re one play away from being in there a lot.’ So we prepare like we’re going to start every game, and this game, it happened. It sure was fun.”
Brady, whose lukewarm assessment of Meyers’ and Olszewski’s progress made headlines last week, said after the game he’s encouraged by the level of dedication both have displayed this season.
Olszewski said he and Meyers — whom he called his “best friend” — are “the last two out of the building every day.”
“They’re working hard at it, and I appreciate all their efforts,” Brady said. “When you’re a young player — I mean, I always said when I was young, I just was trying to be on time and not forget my playbook anywhere. These guys are kind of in a different role than that. They’re playing in games and contributing. So I’m happy for those guys to come in there and help us win a game. That’s what we needed.
“Anyone who’s on the active roster has to be ready to go. So, it was just good for those guys to catch some balls and gain some confidence.”
The Patriots now have a 10-day break before they visit the New York Jets next Monday night, giving Dorsett and Gordon plenty of time to heal up. If both are active next week, Meyers and Olszewski likely will return to the reserve roles they previously occupied — and could be pushed even further down if New England acquires another receiver before the NFL trade deadline
Life as an undrafted rookie is about capitalizing on opportunities, though, and the youngsters certainly helped their cause Thursday night..
“Gun Show and Kobs made some really big plays,” Edelman said. “Jakobi on that back-shoulder in the red area, which was a huge play; Gun Show with that in-cut and a couple unders. It was good to see them come in and be able to allow us to come in and run plays. I’m super proud of them. They’re doing a really good job.”