Patriots receivers Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry continue to struggle

FOXBORO MA. OCTOBER 18: New England Patriots’ Devin Asiasi, N’Keal Harry and Cam Newton walk off the field after the lost to the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxboro, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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FOXBORO —The Patriots’ top two receivers, Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry, had a whopping two catches for eight yards between them Sunday.

And both of those catches belonged to Edelman.

It’s hard imagining the offense getting much better, if those two can’t pick up some slack — or just get open every so often.

The Broncos largely employed man-coverage in their 18-12 win, and neither man could break free.

Harry was pretty much invisible, rendered a no-show by Broncos corners Bryce Callahan and Michael Ojemudia, depending on which side he lined up on. He was targeted twice, and couldn’t make a play.

Harry’s first target went for a pick by Callahan. It didn’t help that Harry barely competed for the ball.

The last target? That basically ended the game.

Trailing by six, it was the Patriots’ last offensive play, as Harry wasn’t able to read Cam Newton, or see that he had blitzing rushers in his face. He couldn’t figure which way Newton expected him to turn on the fourth-down heave that went for not, ending any hope of a comeback.

“It wasn’t a miscommunication,” said Newton. “I tried to anticipate where he was going to be, I let the ball go prior to him breaking on his initial route. I knew I was going to get hit and tried to give him a chance.”

There was basically no chance. Harry didn’t get Newton’s telepathy.

As for Edelman, it’s no secret he’s battling a knee problem. He’s been on the injury report forever, limited in practice because of a knee injury.

He had trouble with his left knee last year, and had surgery on it during the offseason. He also needed an ACL repair on his right knee in 2017.

Whatever the problem, he’s doing his best to battle through it. But one thing is obvious: he’s not right.

Between watching him in the Week 4 game against Kansas City, as well as Sunday’s 18-12 loss to the Broncos, Edelman can’t make plays like he used to with regularity.

Nowadays, if Edelman catches a pass, he drops to the ground to avoid contact. It happened Sunday on the first catch he made. Newton threw a quick out, which Edelman secured and then dropped with like a sack.

He’s clearly protecting his knee.

The only time Edelman didn’t struggle against the Broncos was when he was throwing the football, completing two passes on gimmick plays; one to James White for 22 yards, and a second to Newton for 16.

The Patriots, however, don’t need Edelman to play quarterback. They need him to be an effective slot receiver.

Against the Chiefs, his issues were more obvious. When quarterback Brian Hoyer, who started in place of the COVID-19 positive Newton, found him on a 19-yard completion in the third quarter, Edelman gave himself up without being touched.

He just went down.

Long respected as one of the toughest Patriots, Edelman has never been one to turtle.

Later in the fourth quarter of that game, a Jarrett Stidham pass hit off Edelman’s hands as he prepared to make a move against an incoming tackler. Instead, that tackler, Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, ended up with a pick-six. Basically, Edelman got caught peeking to see where Mathieu was.

Between those drops — Edelman now has 24 in his last 26 regular-season games according to Pro Football Focus — and his avoidance of contact, it’s pretty clear the former Super Bowl MVP isn’t himself.

The Patriots are trying to manage his knee, but it’s not gotten better for the 34-year-old since his career game of eight catches for 179 yards at Seattle in Week 2. After five games played, he’s managed just 20 catches for 302 yards.

Harry, meanwhile, has just 18 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown.

At this rate, the Patriots are going to have to make a move for a receiver before the Nov. 3 trade deadline.

In addition to Edelman and Harry, the Patriots have Damiere Byrd, Gunner Olszewski Jakobi Meyers and Isaiah Zuber in their receivers room.

Byrd (three catches) was the top receiver against the Broncos. They aren’t going to win many games with this kind of production from the group, but mainly, their top two wideouts.