N’Keal Harry’s absence from the New England Patriots’ Week 17 matchup came as a surprise to many.
The Patriots were already short a receiver because of Nelson Agholor’s recovery from a concussion in Week 15, and the team’s depth at the position isn’t great. Bill Belichick believed in second-year receiver Kristian Wilkerson and he gained the opportunity over the former first-round pick.
Wilkerson had his first career catch early in the game and he finished the day of with four receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Wilkerson’s steady progress in practice led to his elevation from the practice squad and it ultimately led to Harry missing the game.
Belichick was asked on Monday why Harry was a healthy scratch and he immediately discussed Wilkerson.
“Wilk gave us some plays in the kicking game and offensively,” Belichick said, via NESN’s Zack Cox. “He’s had a couple good weeks of practice and a good week this week. (We) felt like he had earned the opportunity, and he made a couple plays (Sunday) to help the team. It’s really kind of a week-to-week thing on who we activate and who’s at the game and who isn’t and so forth. … We’ll take it really day by day, but the decisions will be weekly.”
Wilkerson, who went undrafted out of Southeast Missouri State, only saw nine snaps over the past two seasons before this week. He had 60 snaps on offense (83%) in the 50-10 rout of the Jaguars.
“Kristian did a good job of preparing all year, as he has,” Belichick continued. “Every week, he works hard in practice and has improved a lot, both offensively and in the kicking game, and he tried to take advantage of his opportunity (Sunday). That’s always a good thing — for players to get an opportunity and then be able to capitalize on it and show their teammates and the team that they can contribute. That’s kind of how it goes.”
The Patriots may have found a new spark to the offense with the playoffs coming around. It’s unknown whether or not he’ll get a chance next week — but, the Patriots play the Miami Dolphins on the road and they’ll need whichever weapons are available for this tough game.