Nelson Agholor reached the milestone of the century for the first time in his career with the New England Patriots on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium.
A third down with 30 seconds remaining before intermission played no small part in why. The veteran wide receiver sprinted down the right sideline with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon in his left hip pocket. As the football game approached, the two turned around.
But the Schutt helmet of one and the Nike gloves of the other, it’s gone. And for a touchdown at 44 yards.
“I would say I’ve been on both sides,” Agholor said in his press conference after New England’s 17-14 win over Pittsburgh. “I played for eight years. I’ve been on both sides of who I’ve ridden for this and haven’t finished it. I think it’s a matter of concentration and just being present when the ball is in the air.
Six passes in all were captured by Agholor in the afternoon. Finishing with 110 receiving yards, he scored the USC’s seventh triple-digit product since entering the NFL in the second round of the 2015 draft.
The precedent came during his tenures with the Philadelphia Eagles and Las Vegas Raiders. He played three such games with the latter during a one-year contract in 2020.
“We’re talking from the coach’s perspective of going up and getting the ball at the climax,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters during a video conference call Monday morning. “There are going to be around 50 to 50 balls like that. We had one last week which we lost to Tyreek Hill. I had one this week that we did, over there on Witherspoon. So Nelly did a great job going up and getting her hands on the ball and then tearing it up and pulling it out. So you give him all the credit for that.
Agholor, 29, caught just 37 passes for 473 yards and three touchdowns in his first season at Foxborough after signing a two-year, $22 million contract last March. The rookie starter under center has targeted him 62 times in that span.
But more goals were tracked through spring training sessions and a summer training camp. Whoever broke a 3-3 tie at Pittsburgh had a 26.2% completion probability, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
“We worked on this play in the offseason and 50-50 balls,” Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said after the touchdown game after passing 21 of 35 for 252 yards and one interception. “And he’s one of those guys that I put in the ‘jet-it-up-to-him’ category. And he’s going to have to make the play. So if it’s one-on-one head, I’ll give it a chance.
Jones, a team captain, noted in August that Agholor’s knowledge of football made him “almost a quarterback”. But the Super Bowl LII champ he’s pitching to knows that hard plays are just as important as easy plays.
Agholor had three catches for 28 yards and a fumble in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins before helping prevent New England’s first 0-2 start since 2001. His rebound on Sunday coincided with fellow receiver Jakobi Meyers catching nine passes for 95 yards.
“Hopefully this week will serve as a springboard for us for more weeks to come,” added Agholor, who is capped at $14.882 million in the final year of his contract. “With Mac, it gets better every week. And me as a player, I want to improve with him. I want to produce for him. I want to build confidence that he feels like he can come to me if I’m five yards behind a guy or just one yard. Either way, you build that kind of confidence by making those hard plays and also having those routine plays.
The balance between the two will be against the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday. Kickoff at Gillette Stadium is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.