Two of the Patriots’ most important offensive players sat out of last Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers – and it’s possible they were both in Bill Belichick’s doghouse.
The obvious one is wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who was ejected from last Tuesday’s joint practices with the Panthers after throwing punches at Panthers players during a brawl. Bourne returned for Wednesday’s practice, but didn’t dress for Friday’s game at Gillette Stadium.
Bourne wasn’t spotted in the locker room after the game. His locker was open, but ostensibly only so an assistant could pack his bags. Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus later reported that Bourne made the trip to Las Vegas for joint practices and the final preseason game of the summer against the Raiders.
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The less obvious one is left tackle Trent Brown, who certainly left a large void on the offensive line in the game, which possibly contributed to that group’s struggles on Mac Jones’ first two drives. Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reported after the game that Brown wasn’t injured and just got a night off. That alone would’ve made sense, considering Brown’s importance to the offense as Jones’ blind side protector, and the fact that he missed eight games with a calf injury in 2021.
However, ESPN’s Mike Reiss added more context to the Brown situation in a tweet Monday morning with his takeaways from the game. Reiss appears to believe that Brown’s absence from the game was also disciplinary in nature. And even if it was not explicitly a punishment from Belichick, Reiss is speculating (call it “informed speculation”) that a subpar practice performance led the head coach to believe Brown didn’t deserve to play.
“No Kendrick Bourne and Trent Brown in the lineup, and when Bill Belichick made reference to them being available for this week’s practice in Las Vegas, the message couldn’t have been any clearer to me: Practice better and you earn your way onto the field,” Reiss wrote. “…Brown’s urgency seemed inconsistent at times, particularly in the two-minute drill [during joint practices].”
Reiss added that he’s now going to be watching both Bourne and Brown to “see how they respond.” So, obviously, Reiss is convinced that Brown was benched last Friday for giving Belichick an unsatisfactory effort in the joint practices.
“I expect probably all of our players to be available [in Las Vegas] with maybe the exception of [Kristian] Wilkerson,” Belichick said after the game Friday night. “We’ll see what happens, unless somebody walks in here with something today, but I think we should be pretty close with everybody. Hopefully. We’ll see how it goes.”
Since then, it was reported that rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton broke his collarbone and will have to miss up to 10 weeks. But it sounds like Bourne and Brown will both return for the team and get an opportunity to show out better in joint practices, including Brown against his former team in Vegas.
Jun 8, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) during the New England Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Bourne was essentially penciled in as a go-to starting receiver for Jones entering 2022, after catching a career-best 55 passes for 800 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. But he’s had a bad summer, between a quiet training camp and a tumultuous week when the Panthers came to town. He didn’t seem like his typical ebullient self in his most recent press conference, either.
As for Brown, the Patriots certainly need to keep him healthy, so sitting him last Friday would’ve been understandable even without the disciplinary angle to it. But they’re absolutely going to need him playing at his 2018 level in order to (most importantly) keep Jones upright with time to throw the football, and for the offense to maximize its potential for 2022.
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. You can also email him at email@example.com.