Despite early struggles, Kendrick Bourne states his case as Patriots No. 1 receiver with 2-touchdown game


After only reeling in one touchdown over 16 games in 2022, Bourne doubled his TD output in one game on Sunday.

New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) celebrates with wide receiver Demario Douglas (81) after a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass.
Kendrick Bourne reeled in six catches and two touchdowns during New England’s Week 1 loss. AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper

It feels like a long time ago that the Patriots’ inability to reel in DeAndre Hopkins via free agency was an offseason indictment on Bill Belichick’s squad.

Some of that discourse regarding a dearth of receiving options for Mac Jones was quieted during preseason play, especially when New England exited cut-down day with six receivers on their roster.

With an arsenal of weapons like JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Demario Douglas, and Kayshon Boutte, Jones has a number of avenues to turn to when dropping back to pass — along with all-purpose backs like Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott and Ty Montgomery.

But for all of the different outlets available to Jones in Bill O’Brien’s revamped offense, one question lingered from the Hopkins’ offseason saga.

Do the Patriots truly have a No. 1 receiver on their roster?  

In the closing minutes of Sunday’s season-opening bout against the Eagles, CBS broadcaster Tony Romo offered up his verdict.

“I’m so impressed by [Kendrick] Bourne,” the former Cowboys QB noted. “I think they got themselves a No. 1 receiver.”

Given the number of targets available for Jones, and O’Brien’s knack for spreading the wealth across the depth chart, it might be asking a lot for one Patriots player to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2019.

But a rejuvenated Bourne seems ready to make the most of his opportunity in O’Brien’s new scheme.

Jones did spread the ball around during Sunday’s 25-20 loss, with six different players reeling in at least 30 receiving yards against Philadelphia.

But Bourne led the way as Jones’ most dependable target, catching six balls for 64 yards and two touchdowns.

Sunday stood as a step forward for Bourne after a forgettable 2022 season in Matt Patricia’s simplefield offense.

After reeling in 55 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns in 2021, Bourne was limited to just 35 receptions for 434 yards in his second season with New England. His lone touchdown came in Week 16.

Whether it was landing in Patricia’s doghouse or other factors, Bourne’s route-running and versatility was often an afterthought.

With 11 targets on Sunday, it seems like that strategy has been shifted.

“I honestly think we played good,” Bourne, who doubled his TD totals from 2022 in just one game, said postgame. “We just started slow. So go back to the film room, get right, get better. It was good to learn off a game like that through adversity.”

It wasn’t a perfect night for Bourne, especially at the start.

New England’s first drive of the evening offered plenty of promise, with multiple substitutions and shifting formations allowing Jones and Co. to march down the field with plenty of pace.

But a high throw from Jones and a subsequent bobble from Bourne led to disaster. With Bourne unable to reel in the throw, the ball landed in the hands of Eagles corner Darius Slay, who took to the house for a 70-yard pick-six.

Before some had even settled into their seats at Gillette, the Eagles had a 10-0 lead.

Even with his strong stat line, Bourne did not make any excuses for his inability to bring in a few more catches, including an incompletion on a 3rd-and-12 sequence in the fourth quarter.

“Just a drop honestly, man,” Bourne said when asked about the first-quarter play. “So I gotta make the catch. I pride myself on making tough catches. Pretty bummed about that one, man. I want to show up for my team in all areas.

“Touchdowns are cool, everything’s cool. But a big play like that would have changed the momentum even more. So just practicing and focusing — looking it all the way in, even when it’s a crowded tight catch like that. I know I can make that catch. Next time, I will.”

Despite the sluggish start, New England still totaled 382 total net yards on offense, a far cry from the lackluster production found during the preseason — and a departure from the stop-and-start results found last year under Patricia.

Even though Jones placed a majority of the blame for Sunday’s loss on himself due to the first-quarter lapses and an inability to execute in the final minutes of play, it still stood as a step in the right direction for New England’s QB1.

Sunday was the fourth time that Jones has thrown for three touchdowns in a single game. His 316 passing yards were the third-most of his career.

Postgame, Jones stressed that Bourne’s presence offers some much-needed security, especially when the signal caller needs to get rid of the ball in short order.

“He kept fighting,” Jones said of Bourne. “I know that about KB, we’ve kind of been in these situations far too often where we’re behind and I know that’s my go-to guy.”

In some respects, Bourne’s night stood as a microcosm of the Patriots’ performance on offense against the Eagles.

Despite some miscues at the start, Bourne believes that both he and his teammates put together some encouraging stretches of play against one of the better defenses in the league.

The next step is to build off of that performance, especially with a key divisional matchup against the Dolphins set for next Sunday in Foxborough.

“We definitely feel like we can play with any team,” Bourne said. “Just keep improving every day. … Just playing our game, playing within the scheme, and just making the plays when they come. I think that’ll make us better.”