The biggest question coming out of the New England Patriots’ latest loss: why did Bill Belichick bench his most dynamic offensive weapon?
Yes, that is exactly what rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas looked like early in the Pats’ 24-17 home loss to the Miami Dolphins on “Sunday Night Football.” Douglas made two catches for 19 yards over the Patriots’ first two offensive drives, showing off his quickness and making tacklers miss for YAC. But unfortunately, Douglas’ second catch-and-run ended with a forced fumble by Bradley Chubb that gave the ball back to the Dolphins.
That was Douglas’ sixth offensive snap of the game. It was also his final offensive play, as Douglas only saw the field as a punt returner for the rest of the game.
Here are the full unofficial snap counts for the Patriots’ skill position players on Sunday night, with official numbers coming later on Monday:
DeVante Parker: 74
Hunter Henry: 69
Rhamondre Stevenson: 54
Mike Gesicki: 53
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 44
Kendrick Bourne: 38
Ezekiel Elliott: 22
Pharaoh Brown: 7
Demario Douglas: 6
Ty Montgomery: 3
Back in the Tom Brady era, it was easy for Belichick to send a message: you fumble, you sit. That would be the easy reason 10 years ago. But this Patriots team? Down multiple touchdowns? With a shaky offensive line, inconsistent pass-catchers, a general lack of explosiveness, and a young quarterback who has struggled to close the deal in competitive games? The Douglas benching felt a little Malcolm Butler-y.
And Belichick didn’t make anyone feel much better when he was asked about Douglas’ absence after the game. The head coach was as evasive as ever.
“Yeah, we played all of our skill players. They all played,” Belichick said. “Look, we had a lot of production on offense. [DeVante] Parker had a good day. [Mike] Gesicki had a good day. Hunter [Henry] had a good day, JuJu [Smith-Schuster], KB [Kendrick Bourne]. So, you know, a lot of good players. Can’t play everybody.”
Pressed again on Douglas not playing after the fumble, Belichick continued: “We played all of our – yeah, look, we could talk about this every week. And there will be somebody that played less than somebody else. We’ve got a lot of skilled players.”
For the grand finale, reminded once again that Douglas didn’t play another offensive snap after fumbling, Belichick replied: “Yeah, okay.”
It was understandable if the reins were pulled back on a 5-foot-8 rookie receiver who got a little too loose with the football. But it’s curious why Belichick couldn’t just acknowledge that. It was odd for Belichick to speak as if there was nothing to see, here.
Douglas himself was accountable for the fumble after the game, and the kid has a great attitude. It’s hard not to feel for him, to never get an opportunity (other than a couple punt returns) to redeem himself. As he watched the Patriots offense be so hit-or-miss without him.
“It’s something to learn from,” Douglas said. “Whenever I get back in there, I’ll make it count for sure.”
Douglas said coaches never told him that he wasn’t going to play another snap on offense. The Patriots opted to go tight end-heavy for much of the game, running 49 of 74 offensive plays (66.2 percent) with two or three TEs on the field.
The Patriots ultimately couldn’t overcome two separate 14-point deficits, as the Patriots’ final offensive drive came up short on a Mike Gesicki lateral to left guard Cole Strange. It makes one wonder if Mac Jones could have averaged more than 5.5 yards per pass attempt if he had his most explosive weapon on the field more.
Instead, the Patriots are 0-2 for the first time since 2001. And Belichick may be more to blame than anyone else.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.