SAN DIEGO -- Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. With the Patriots placing second-year receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring) on season-ending injured reserve Thursday, it highlights once again the team’s struggles in drafting and developing receivers under Bill Belichick. Rubbing a little extra salt into the wound was the performance of Packers rookie Davante Adams (second round, Fresno State) in last Sunday’s win over the Patriots. But as easy as it is to criticize the Patriots in this area, it balances off with the thought that arguably no team in the NFL addresses deficiencies on the fly as well as Belichick’s Patriots. One shining example: After acquiring defensive end/outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round pick in exchange for a sixth-round pick from Tennessee on Oct. 22, this is what Ayers has produced in five games: 273 of 362 snaps played, 11 tackles, 3 sacks, and sound play against the run. Where would the Patriots be without Ayers? It’s a question we didn’t think we’d be asking just six weeks ago.
2. A neat stat pointed out by Patriots assistant director of media relations Michael Jurovaty: New England's nine turnovers, which rank tied for the second-fewest in the NFL, have all been committed by quarterback Tom Brady (six interceptions, three lost fumbles). That’s a reflection of good overall ball security by everyone else on the roster, and of course, a little bit of good luck with the bounce of the football. I checked the other 31 teams and the Patriots are the only club in the NFL to have all their turnovers committed by one player.
3. The one question that seems to trump all among Patriots followers -- will cornerback Darrelle Revis re-sign with the team in 2015? -- figures to be the most compelling storyline we’ll be following after the season. I thought Revis’ remarks to Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet this week in San Diego capture how Revis has expertly handled this topic, and also how he’s appreciated his '14 campaign in New England. If the Patriots are competitive with top bidders, I see them having the inside track based on Revis’ positive experience.
4. If the Jets fire head coach Rex Ryan, as many expect they will, I think Ryan can learn a lot from revisiting Eric Mangini’s career move after being let go as New York’s head coach in 2008. Mangini jumped at the next head-coaching gig immediately, in Cleveland, and was quickly gone after two years. Now, when possible head-coaching candidates are mentioned, Mangini is off the radar (even though I think he's a strong candidate). Thus, sometimes taking a step back, having the time to assess where things went wrong, and then positioning for a more attractive opening a year or so down the line is the smarter play.
5. Always interested in how coaching rumors get started and never bought the idea that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a viable candidate for the University of Florida. But those rumors start somewhere and what I read into them is that someone is probably working behind the scenes to build McDaniels’ public profile, as he’s now four years removed from his combustible Broncos tenure and had the time to assess what he’d do differently when/if he gets another crack at a top job. Count me among those who believe McDaniels is a top candidate, somewhat similar to Bill Belichick in 2000 with the Patriots.
6. How does a team ensure a faster start? That has been the focus for the Patriots this week. It hasn’t been lost on quarterback Tom Brady that in the team’s three losses, one common thread has been getting out of the gate slowly. Against Miami in the opener, the Patriots had a three-and-out, a blocked punt, then fell behind 7-0. Against Kansas City in Week 4, it was another three-and-out and a quick 7-0 deficit that ballooned to 17-0 at the half. And against the Packers last week, the Patriots ran seven offensive plays over their first two drives and fell behind 13-0. So when watching tonight, we should get a good feel about the Patriots’ chances very early.
7. Three things have stood out when watching the Patriots’ opponent next Sunday, the Dolphins, in recent weeks: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has completed 70 percent of his passes in each of the last five games (only Peyton Manning has a longer such single-season streak in the last decade), rookie receiver Jarvis Landry (57 catches, 518 yards, 5 TDs) was a real nice pickup in the late second round (the selection after Jimmy Garoppolo), and the defense is quite sound with opponents’ Total QBR of 38.0 the lowest total in the NFL.
8. Tight end Tim Wright’s usage over the last two weeks had stood out to me, as the Patriots are using him more than they have all season -- a season-high 61 snaps vs. Detroit, and then a second-best 30 against Green Bay. For those who wanted more Wright, and less of slot receiver Danny Amendola (15 snaps vs. Detroit, season-low 12 vs. Green Bay), the Patriots have decisively headed in that direction the last two games. Seems like a safe educated guess that will continue tonight as Wright brings a receiver-like element to the attack despite his designation as a tight end.
9. One line of thinking is that the Patriots caught the Chargers at a good time tonight, in part because they’re coming off a road game against the Ravens. The thinking goes that any game against Baltimore is going to take a physical toll on a team, but the stats actually don’t back it up. I tallied up the cumulative record of opponents in games immediately after facing Baltimore this year, and it is 7-4 (with two of the losses from lower-echelon teams in Tampa Bay and Tennessee). The only game that truly stood out as a possible residual of a Ravens hangover was the Steelers’ road loss to the Jets on Nov. 9, which came after a home win over Baltimore.
10. As part of their week-long stay in San Diego, Bill Belichick brought players to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego to visit with wounded warriors. As explained on the team’s official website, it was supposed to be just Belichick and a few players, but turned into an entire team outing. It reminded me of something Brady said two weeks ago -- Belichick is really a teacher at heart. His ties to the Navy are also well documented.