What Patriots’ JuJu Smith-Schuster said about limited snaps, benches-clearing hit

Patriots

“I knew that it was a possibility and kind of just waited for the game to play out.”

New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7) walks on the field prior to an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2023.
JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t play a snap until the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Miami. Michael Ainsworth/AP Photo

After missing the Patriots’ last two games due to a concussion, JuJu Smith-Schuster found himself back on the gridiron for Sunday’s road matchup against the Miami Dolphins.

But for most of New England’s eventual 31-17 loss, New England’s top free-agent pickup was planted along the sidelines.

Once envisioned as an upgrade over Jakobi Meyers and a dynamic slot receiver capable of extended plays after the catch, Smith-Schuster didn’t play a single snap through the first three quarters of Sunday’s showdown at Hard Rock Stadium.

By the time Smith-Schuster finally earned the call from New England’s coaches and joined Mac Jones and the Patriots’ offensive personnel, it was the fourth quarter — after both DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne were ruled out due to injury.

Smith-Schuster did make the most of his limited reps, with his lone target from Jones resulting in a three-yard touchdown for New England on its most complete drive of the afternoon.

But even with his first touchdown as a Patriot secured, Smith-Schuster’s limited usage on a New England offense in desperate need of playmakers raises some questions — especially in terms of his overall impact amid a disappointing 2023 season.

“I knew that it was a possibility and kind of just waited for the game to play out,” Smith-Schuster said postgame of his limited snaps, adding: “It’s what the coaches, the decisions they made with the players. It is what it is. I’ve been in situations like this before. Just when the opportunity comes, make the most of it.”

Smith-Schuter’s limited reps can be linked to rookie Demario Douglas’ emerging role in New England’s offense. Still, the optics aren’t ideal when a veteran who just inked a $33 million contract in March is losing out on snaps to Jalen Reagor, who has spent most of the year on the Patriots’ practice squad.

“We’ve played multiple people,” Bill Belichick said of Smith-Schuster’s reps on Sunday. We played multiple people. So whichever guy plays less, you ask why that guy didn’t play more. We can’t play everybody.”

Entering Sunday’s game, Smith-Schuster reeled in 14 catches over five games with New England, but for a total of just 86 yards. He might need to step into a larger role moving forward, especially if both Parker and Bourne miss some time due to their respective injuries. 

Still, Smith-Schuster has yet to shake concerns over his dip in explosive plays and the long-term effects of a lingering knee injury that plagued him last year. 

As New England tries to carve out a set role for Smith-Schuster and get him back up to speed, a few rumored Patriots targets in the offseason have continued to capitalize in new surroundings.

A veteran wideout with big-play capabilities in DeAndre Hopkins would come in handy right about now. The former All-Pro wideout caught four balls for 128 yards and three touchdowns in the Titans’ win over the Falcons on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Meyers is projected to finish his first season in Las Vegas with 90 catches, 935 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

Along with his touchdown catch, Smith-Schuster made another play in the closing minutes of Sunday’s game that drew the ire of the Dolphins.

On a fourth-down throw, Jones uncorked a pass that Dolphins defensive back Brandon Jones tried to corral. Smith-Schuster delivered a heavy hit against Jones, breaking up the potential interception for Miami.

Brandon Jones, whose head hit the turf hard after Smith-Schuster’s hit, was stunned after the sequence, setting off a heated scrap between players on both rosters. The Dolphins defensive back was evaluated for a head injury. 

“Just saw the defensive player trying to go for an interception and just trying to make a play,” Smith-Schuster said of his hit. “While he was coming down with the ball, I kinda just hit him in the chest and tried to get the ball out. … “Of course they seemed upset. I can see why. But it was a clean hit.”

Smith-Schuster was assessed a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, seemingly for standing over Jones after doling out the hit.

Smith-Schuster disagreed with the sequence of events.

“I hit him and walked to the sideline,” the receiver noted.


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