By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The best play from Thursday night’s Patriots preseason win might have been an incompletion.
It came early in the second quarter, with New England leading Washington 3-0. Rookie Mac Jones was in for his first series of the night. He was 2-for-3 for 20 yards to that point, and even his incompletion was a completion. (Bill Belichick didn’t feel like challenging.)
Kristian Wilkerson — the second-year receiver who’s turned some heads at training camp — ran a go route up the left sideline, with cornerback Torry McTyer playing off man coverage. Wilkerson gained the slightest step on the corner, and Jones didn’t hesitate, arcing a beautiful deep ball to the left edge of the end zone, giving Wilkerson a chance to make a spectacular play.
Wilkerson, however, couldn’t make the catch, with the ball tickling his fingertips before crashing to the turf.
My goodness. Mac Jones put this ball right on Kristian Wilkerson's hands (and only where the WR could catch it). 👀🔥 pic.twitter.com/odjmGeahQP
— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) August 13, 2021
It went down as an incompletion, and an incompletion in a preseason game, no less. Its mark on football history will be invisible.
But the play did lead to a tremendous back-and-forth between Bill Belichick and reporter Phil Perry on Friday morning, a day after the Patriots’ historic 22-13 win over the Washington Football Team. Perry asked Belichick what goes into a well-executed deep ball. Belichick said the conversation could last an hour.
The short version of Belichick’s analysis came toward the end of his message.
“That is what it is — there’s really a lot to it on all three players involved. The guy throwing the ball, the guy catching the ball, and the guy defending the play,” Belichick said. “And so for each player, there’s a pretty long in-depth conversation just on one specific thing, and then when you start putting it all together, it rolls into a lot of coaching points, a lot of technique, and a lot of details.”
Prior to that, though, Belichick offered some detailed insight into elements of such plays that are often taken for granted by viewers in the middle of a football game.
Here’s what the coach said, in full:
Well that’s a … you know, Phil, that’s the kind of thing that we could probably spend an hour in a quarterback-receiver meeting in training camp. So much depends on the play itself, the coverage, the matchup, and what happens after the ball is snapped. And then, obviously, the long pass is a play that takes the longest in football. And so there’s a lot of things that can go right, and there’s a lot of things that can go wrong.
But in the end, when the ball finally arrives at the reception area then there’s a whole other level of execution that’s involved, regardless of what’s happened on the previous — call it, I don’t know, three seconds, three and a half seconds, that’s already taken place on the play.
So the finish of that play is — there’s a lot at stake on both sides. We’re talking about one defensive back, one receiver — whoever the receiver is, it could be a tight end or a back or a safety or a corner, whoever it is, linebacker. But there’s a lot at stake on the result of that play, and the result of the finish of the play.
But again, there are a lot of things that can happen between when the ball is snapped and when the ball finally arrives, let’s call it 40 yards downfield.
So it’s a very in-depth question, what leads to success and failure. There’s more to that play in terms of timing and time than really there is in any other play. Things happen quicker on shorter passes and running plays, guys are lined up within a few inches of each other on the line of scrimmage. You know, the go, the post , the deep seam. Again, all the things, the different types of deep passes, based on whether it’s a play-action, whether it’s just a straight clear-out route, or a go route that the quarterback really intends to throw, versus kind of a a clear-out pattern that has something going underneath.
I mean we can go on and on here but it’s really pretty specific. But in the end it comes down most of the time to the finish of the play, assuming that the balls is catchable. So that’s why the technique and the finish and the skill of the players involved is important to the outcome.
So, sorry I can’t give you a more specific — we could be here for a couple hours talking about all that, because there’s so many things that can happen during that time. And again, the position of the players is, even at the beginning of the play, can be can be quite different as well.
So, honestly, it’s a pretty, pretty deep question.
A deep question with a deep answer.
Keep that in mind — all of it — the next time you see a deep pass result in a huge gain or a forgettable incompletion. Either way, a whole lot went into it.