Notes from Foxboro: Opportunity (finally) knocking for Patriots' rookie receivers

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Josh Gordon's loss is N'Keal Harry's gain. Same goes for Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Despite experience topping the depth chart at wide receiver, the Patriots' plan for the rest of the group is clear now: they're riding it out with the kids.

The Patriots have placed Gordon on injured reserve, which will end his time with the Pats for good. Reports indicate that the team intends to waive him off IR once he's healthy, meaning all other 31 teams will have a chance to claim him. This will help minimize the chances of Gordon landing with another contending team in the AFC.

It also, however, kicks the door wide open for the Patriots' trio of rookie wideouts to really make an impact. The acquisition of Mohamed Sanu effectively makes him Gordon's replacement, but it also likely indicates the end of major changes at the position.

Harry is first eligible to play next week at the Ravens. It's time to accept that he, Meyers, and Olszewski will be competing for the fourth receiver spot. And if more injuries strike, they move up the depth chart. It's a major opportunity for each of them to reward Belichick for holding on to them this long. In Harry's case, it's his chance to reward Belichick for designating him to return from injured reserve.

Antonio Brown is not walking through that door. Gordon is not walking through that door. Nor is anyone else who's on another team right now. The Patriots receiver depth chart is what it is, and the rookies deserve a chance to show why the Pats are going with all of them over Gordon.

Meyers has caught nine straight targets for 101 yards in his last two games since forced into a bigger role. Harry is a first-round pick. There's reason to be confident that, with those two contributing and Sanu infusing the roster with dependability and durability, the Pats will have enough at receiver moving forward.

More notes on the Patriots for Wednesday night below...

Michael Bennett speaks his mind

It's not a surprise at this point. Michael Bennett marches to the beat of his own drum. Doesn't matter that he's a Patriot now. He speaks his mind on a variety of topics, and he's going to do the same in the Gillette Stadium meeting rooms.

But that's not how it works with the Patriots. Belichick's success makes him bulletproof as far as coaching decisions are concerned. The Pats are at their best when all 53 players are falling in the proverbial line and simply doing what Belichick and his assistants ask them to do. Bennett has never been a guy who does that, and he still won't be despite having to serve a one-week suspension after a "philosophical disagreement" with Patriots defensive line coach Bret Bielema.

"I didn't take away nothing [from my suspension]," Bennett said Wednesday. "I got suspended and I lost money. What am I supposed to take away from that? I mean there's no love lost, that's just how it is."

It would've been best for Bennett to take something away from his suspension, like realizing that his job is not to argue philosophies with the coaches. His job is to play, and there's a chance even less of that is coming. Here, anyway.

Freddie Kitchens leaning right into Patriots mystique

Is Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens already psyching his team out?

One of the most important qualities in a team that hopes to beat the Patriots, especially in Foxboro while the team is undefeated, is fearlessness. You can't bow to the Patriots' championship mystique that has come roaring back since going to four of five Super Bowls from 2014-18. The second you approach the game like it's any more than one game, you run the risk of Belichick absolutely stampeding you.

Kitchens admitted in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that the Patriots' historic run and incredible success this season is not lost on him or the players, and he's pretty much leaning right into that mystique. No pressure, guys, but not gonna lie, you're trying to beat Goliath this week.

Head coach Freddie Kitchens of the Cleveland Browns on the field before the preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Head coach Freddie Kitchens of the Cleveland Browns on the field before the preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

"I'm not going to try to fool them to think that, you know, we're going in to play a normal team. We're not going to play a normal team; we're going in to play the New England Patriots," said Kitchens. "They do a good job coaching, they do a good job playing, they do a good job doing their job, and anytime that happens, you're not going to go in and they're not going to beat themselves.

"So, it's very difficult to play against teams like that because their mistakes are going to be very limited. You have to make sure you don't beat yourself and make them beat you."

Obviously, Kitchens would have sounded like an idiot if he said the Patriots are beatable or anything along those lines. But you can't help but feel he's setting his team up to be too spooked by the ghosts of Foxboro to even have a chance on Sunday.

Sanu's durability a hidden benefit

Mohamed Sanu brings a lot of Patriot-like qualities. But one of the benefits that will come in handy in this season, in particular, is his durability.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Sanu has played in 101 of a possible 103 regular season games. He's on a streak of 34 consecutive games going back to mid-2017.

Meyers is the only Patriots receiver who hasn't appeared on the injury report in 2019. For a Patriots team where almost every receiver has dealt with some sort of physical issue, the best stat to come from Sanu will be games played.

Slater excited to form dynamic duo with Bethel

The second Justin Bethel's name got brought up, Matthew Slater started beaming. New England's special teams ace is getting paired with another ace. Slater and Bethel could be like the Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling of special teams.

Oct 20, 2017; London, United Kingdom: Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel reacts during practice at the Hazelwood. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 20, 2017; London, United Kingdom: Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel reacts during practice at the Hazelwood. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Slater said he's been watching Bethel since he came into the league in 2012, and has even emulated him at times.

"I'm really excited about playing with him. A guy that I've looked at for a lot of years and tried to steal things from his game," said Slater of Bethel. "I think he's as good a player as we've seen in this league over the last decade. So anytime you can add a guy like that and play opposite of him, it's a good thing."

History repeats itself

The Patriots' signing of Bethel is essentially a repeat of a move they made a year ago. Baltimore released Bethel this week in order to set themselves up to get a compensatory draft pick down the road. They did the same thing last season with linebacker Albert McClellan.

Well, the Pats quickly scooped up McClellan and immediately inserted him into a special teams coverage unit that wasn't playing its best football. The difference in 2019 is that the coverage is better. They're 11th in the league with only 6.3 yards per punt return allowed. They are 27th in the league in kick coverage though, with 27.3 yards per return. So Bethel should help in that department.

Ultimately, though, Bethel is more of a luxury than a need. The league will have to hope it didn't make a costly mistake letting Belichick get his hands on him.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].