FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. In evaluating themselves during the bye week, one of the things that seemed to irritate players the most is how inconsistent they've been at the start of games. So to finish the season strong, a heavy emphasis has been put on that.
Consider that the Patriots have scored only 47 points in the first quarter this season. Two seasons ago, when they won the Super Bowl, they had scored 87 first-quarter points through 10 games.
The 47 points in the first quarter are the second-lowest total for the Patriots at this point in the season in the past decade (44, in 2013).
Though the Patriots have had flashes of brilliance early this season -- such as an authoritative no-huddle touchdown drive to open against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4 -- those haven't been as consistent as the team would like.
"We'll go out and execute at a very high level, and I don't know if we get comfortable, or if there is a lull, but it just doesn't click for 60 minutes. We emphasize starting fast and trying to jump out to leads, but too many games we've been playing from behind and putting ourselves in a hole," said veteran Matthew Slater, one of the team's captains. "It's hard to really pinpoint what that is. I think it goes back to a mindset in trying to attack the game and throw the first punch, if you will. I think we need to get that mentality back."
For context, three of the top teams in the league -- Chiefs (99), Rams (71) and Saints (64) -- are well ahead of the Patriots in first-quarter points through the first 10 games. As quarterback Tom Brady says, starting games strongly allows the team to often play the game on its own terms.
2. The Patriots' locker room is naturally filled with Patriots jerseys, but linebacker Elandon Roberts' locker stands out because of the variety of other jerseys inside it -- Colts, Jaguars and Redskins. He's a collector. And he has more at home.
Roberts says he likes to swap jerseys with those he has a connection with -- possibly from growing up together in Port Arthur, Texas, being teammates at the University of Houston, or having developed a strong rapport in other ways.
The lineup in his locker:
Colts -- Matthew Adams
Jaguars -– D.J. Hayden
Redskins -– Deshazor Everett
"Those are my boys that made it," Roberts said with a smile. "It's just respect."
3. Outside of the obvious choice of Brady, who is the Patriots' most important offensive player down the homestretch? I'm making the case for rookie running back Sony Michel. Among the reasons: Five of the team's final six games are outdoors and in colder climates, and the ability to establish a running game will take much-needed pressure off Brady, while opening up more consistent play-action passing opportunities. One more note to support the point: When Michel was healthy and at his best this season, the Patriots scored 38, 38 and 43 points in three straight games.
4. At one point in practice this past week, some of the Patriots' offensive linemen looked at one another and made note of how they were all participating in practice for what seemed like the first time since training camp. Up to that point, it seemed to them, there was always one or two players who were sidelined because of injuries. Brady often says that the success of the offense starts with that group, and -- outside of first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn (torn Achilles, IR) -- the line is as healthy as it has been all year.
5a. Former Patriots cornerback Ty Law and defensive lineman Richard Seymour were among the 25 semifinalists named this past week for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019, which marks Law's fourth time as a semifinalist and Seymour's first. Law has been a finalist the past two years.
I asked one Hall of Fame voter, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, to share his perspective on the biggest hurdle for both players' chances for induction.
"It's simple: competition. The committee has an enormous, almost impossible, responsibility of trying to determine who's more worthy in a particular year," said McClain, who is now in his 40th season covering the NFL. "It's hard. And it should be.
"The key for any candidate is to get into the room for discussion by being a finalist. Law has been and will be and, I think, will get inducted. I'm just not sure when.
"As for Seymour, I'd love to see him survive the next reduction [to 15] but don't know that he will this year because the competition is fierce. And I'll tell you this: The Patriots could not have a better champion than [Ron] Borges (a veteran Boston sportswriter). He's as dedicated as a Washington lobbyist."
5b. In Law's interview on NFL Network, after learning of his advancement to the semifinals, he brought up a point that has been easy for some to forget: The Patriots' first three Super Bowl championship teams were really defense-minded teams.
6. Chris Hogan's combination of high snap count (107) and low targets (3) and catches (0) over the past two games has been widely dissected, and it would hardly be a surprise if that changes Sunday against the Jets. Looking at Hogan's 10-game body of work, it was notable that his production dipped when he was asked to play a No. 1-2 role in the first quarter of the season, and then spiked in the next four games as more parts were added around him. So, to me, the biggest takeaway is that Hogan fits best as a No. 3-4 complementary piece, and the past two games are more of an outlier for a player in that role.
7. The 3-7 Jets haven't had too much going right for them this season, but the one area in which they rank first in the NFL -- punt return average -- has been one of the Patriots' biggest weaknesses (No. 31 ranking). Jets returner Andre Roberts has been a top concern this week, and that's one reason that veteran Ramon Humber was signed to replace second-year player Nicholas Grigsby (one of the tackles on the punt team).
8. From the "completely random" file: At one of the Patriots' practices this past week, second-year defensive end Derek Rivers went through individual drills with the safeties. That was almost as unusual as seeing practice-squad defensive end/linebacker Trent Harris doing something similar with the cornerbacks. Not surprisingly, it was done with a purpose, as it was explained to me that Rivers was moved to that group to even out the drill, numbers-wise, so everyone would have a chance to get a repetition in the limited time allotted to the drill. It was a reminder of how coaches are on top of seemingly every minor detail. A side benefit, it turns out, is that Rivers picked up tips on tackling from watching players he otherwise wouldn't.
9. With Patriots running back Rex Burkhead eligible to return to action next Sunday against the Vikings, the Patriots would have to clear a spot for him on the 53-man roster. Assuming there are no injuries against the Jets that dramatically alter the picture, the offensive line looks like the spot that could be trimmed, with nine players on the roster after carrying eight through most of the season. Tackle Matt Tobin and center/guard James Ferentz are Nos. 8 and 9.
10. When the Patriots lost slot cornerback Jonathan Jones in the playoffs last year, his presence was particularly missed in the Super Bowl. While the club hopes to keep Jones healthy this time around, it enters the homestretch with more depth at that position -- specifically, with second-round pick Duke Dawson saying he has been practicing exclusively in the slot. Dawson spent the first half of the season on injured reserve, but upon his return to practice he was described by receiver Julian Edelman as "feisty" and "competitive."