Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. I still think running back Shane Vereen has something to offer the Patriots’ offense, and today would be a good time to tap his speed and pass-catching ability. With receiver Julian Edelman (hand) out, it takes away one of the team’s more explosive weapons, and Vereen -- while used differently -- could help provide some spark. The 2011 second-round pick hasn’t been active this season, in part because of a foot injury sustained Aug. 24 in the third preseason game at Tampa. But the Patriots have already ruled out six players for Sunday, and with just one more player to be declared inactive, one would think the opening is there for Vereen to emerge.
2. No one questions Logan Mankins’ toughness. If a hip injury kept him out of Patriots practice all week, and knocked him out of today’s game against the Bills, it has to be one painful injury.
3. After further review ... the owners’ replacement referee plan was short-sighted, and they are penalized for putting a short-term stain on the NFL brand. That’s the “instant replay” view of the owner-referee issue that was resolved Thursday. While the regular officials might have driven a hard bargain at times and partly contributed to the stalemate, I think the owners underestimated the regular officials’ importance to the game. If the Packers miss the playoffs because of a tiebreaker, or get a lower seed because of it, we could be looking back at their Week 3 loss at Seattle as a primary factor. Then what will the league’s owners say?
4. Why did Ravens receiver Torrey Smith slip to the second round of the 2011 NFL draft? That was a question that came to mind after watching him perform admirably against the Patriots last Sunday, when his excellence as a downfield threat was apparent. Looks similar to the Mike Wallace/Steelers situation from 2009 (Wallace was a third-rounder), as Wallace ran extremely well at Mississippi but there were questions with how he’d handle the complete route tree. Smith is growing in that area.
5. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has played every snap but one for the Patriots this season, but count me among those who don’t see the same playing-on-another-level skills from him on a consistent basis. With Gronkowski showing up on the injury report Friday (hip), and having a history with a back injury in college, I’m interested to see how much he plays today and how explosive he looks.
7. Tight end Kellen Winslow’s one-week stint with the Patriots was puzzling. Of all the theories as to why it didn’t last, a Saturday tweet from ESPN’s Ed Werder makes the most sense from this view: Winslow didn’t want to endure the pain he felt with his knee if it was going to be for a limited role. Winslow’s expectations might have been greater than what the Patriots had in mind.
8. If you’re a Cleveland Browns fan, what hope do you have? Felt like they were ascending under Eric Mangini in 2009-2010, but have taken a step back since.
9. It’s been four seasons since Brad Seely left the Patriots after 10 years as special-teams coach. Bill Belichick once called him one of the best coaches he’s ever worked with. Seely’s replacement, Scott O’Brien, has also done some good things, but the units are not off to a good start in 2012, and it’s on O’Brien to clean it up. The Patriots have been called for five penalties on special teams in three games and had a game-turning punt blocked in the Sept. 16 loss to the Cardinals.
10. The Patriots are banged up. It’s only the fourth game of the season, and they have six players already ruled out for today’s game because of injuries. This sets up a scenario similar to last year’s Nov. 13 road game against the Jets when the Patriots entered short-handed and had to rely on their depth. That was one of the themes of the team’s offseason -- building a stronger middle class on the roster -- and it was with days like this in mind.