BOSTON (CBS) — Wide receiver was one of the major areas of concern in the new-look Patriots offense heading into the 2020 season. That was not the case on Sunday night, as Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry dazzled in New England’s 35-30 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle.
Edelman had a career night, impressive considering he’s had a handful of career nights over his 11 years of catching passes. Harry was once again solid as he continues to improve in his second NFL season, putting his Week 1 fumble into the end zone behind him to the tune of eight receptions for 72 yards.
But it was New England’s third receiving option who played more than both Edelman and Harry, a sign that the Patriots are heavily invested in Damiere Byrd making an impact on the offense. Byrd — known as “Little Bud” by quarterback Cam Newton — led all Patriots receivers with 62 snaps played on Sunday, taking the field for 86 percent of New England’s offensive plays.
Byrd was targeted nine times by Newton and answered the call with six catches for 72 yards. It was a slight uptick in attention from Week 1, when no passes flew Byrd’s way.
“As a receiver, you don’t know what the day is going to be like,” Byrd told reporters on Tuesday. “Sometimes you get zero targets and sometimes you get 9-10. It depends on how the game goes. Just do you assignment every play.”
They were pretty big catches on Sunday too, with five of Byrd’s six receptions moving the chains for the Patriots, including two in third-and-long situations. Four of his snags were for 14 yards or more. The Newton-Byrd connection does need to work on their timing on quick outs a bit more, as Newton threw behind Byrd twice. One of those was on the quarterback’s costly interception at the hands of Quinton Dunbar, with Byrd running one comeback route too many.
But Newton was comfortable enough to go back to Byrd on the ensuing possession, with the two hooking up for a 20-yard reception on a key third-and-10. It’s a connection that should only get stronger in the coming weeks, as both newcomers continue to lock down Josh McDaniels’ offensive system.
Newton said during his radio interview on Tuesday morning that he believes the team’s answers at receiver are already in the Patriots locker room. Statements like that are a huge shot of confidence for everyone running out to catch passes from the quarterback.
“I think it brings everybody together. I think all the time we’ve spent this offseason and training camp, we have a lot of confidence in the guys we have to get better and make this team better,” said Byrd.
And if the Newton-Byrd connection looks surprisingly cozy after just two games, it’s because they were teammates in Carolina for three seasons from 2016-18. Byrd wasn’t used much in the Carolina offense during that span, targeted just 20 times and coming down with 12 of them, but it does give him some familiarity with Newton. That should help them both as they digest a new offense without the benefit of any preseason games.
It also means that Byrd has a lengthy list of nicknames from Newton, who always has a fun name (or six) for anyone he’s asked about.
“‘Little Bud’ came my rookie year in Carolina. The backstory, you can get about 3-4 different ones and I’ll let your imagination run wild. ‘Little Bud,’ ‘Bud Light,’ everything along the lines of being smaller,” said the 5-foot-9 Byrd. “D.B. — my initials — and ‘Byrd Man.’ I’m open to whatever.”
The Patriots did not win Sunday night, but there was plenty of good to take away from the defeat. New England isn’t usually a place that celebrates moral victories, but given all the change during the offseason and the fact that the 2020 season will go down as one of the strangest and most unique football seasons ever, they count for something.
And when it comes to the surprising functionality of the Patriots offense this early in the season, Damiere Byrd soaring in as a solid No. 3 option for Cam Newton is one of the many promising takeaways from Sunday night’s loss.