FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Running back Dion Lewis is eligible to begin practicing this week after opening the year on the physically unable to perform list, and here is what I’ve been told about his status: He’s made positive progress from a second surgery on his left knee to the point that “it’s possible” he could begin practicing this week. At the same time, given the setback Lewis had with his rehab in the spring (it wasn’t specifically his ACL, but a different part of the knee), the likelihood is that coach Bill Belichick is going to be cautious with him, so it would be no surprise if Lewis isn’t playing in a game until after the early November bye week. Once the Patriots decide to have Lewis practice, they have up to three weeks before having to officially move him up to the 53-man roster.
2. In addition to Lewis, second-year guard Tre’ Jackson (knee) also falls into the same category after opening the year on the PUP list. In recent weeks, the 2015 fourth-round pick out of Florida State has been seen loosening up with teammates at practice before departing for more rehab-based work, and his expected return probably contributed to the Patriots’ decision to release guard Jonathan Cooper last week. I’m told Jackson feels ready to practice and it’s just a matter of the Patriots giving him the green light. As Belichick pointed out this past Friday, the Patriots are currently carrying just eight offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, which is the lowest total in the NFL, something they probably wouldn’t have done without knowing Jackson will soon be returning.
3a. Sunday’s Patriots-Bengals game has been one of the hottest New England regular-season tickets in recent memory, in part because it’s Tom Brady’s first home game since serving a four-game suspension. Another factor: It’s the team’s last 1 p.m. ET home start until Dec. 4 against the Los Angeles Rams. That combination led to the club sending out a public reminder Friday for fans to be wary of counterfeit tickets on the secondary market, which doesn’t happen often. The fan support of Brady was remarkable last Sunday in Cleveland, as the moment he took the field for pregame warmups had a special feel to it that isn’t often seen in a Week 5 game. Today, in what has the potential to be an unforgettable environment at Gillette Stadium, it should reach an even higher level.
3b. Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed Friday's practice with an illness, but I don't expect the illness to affect his availability for Sunday's game against the Bengals. Someone close to Gronkowski relayed that it's "all good" with him.
4. With the majority of attention placed on the Patriots’ 53-man roster on a weekly basis, the past week provided a reminder of how Belichick also views the practice squad as critical, as the club handed out raises of $52,700 to four players -- running back Bishop Sankey, defensive end Geneo Grissom, guard Chris Barker and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (Grissom and Johnson were promoted to the active roster Saturday). This is something the Patriots have done annually, and some other teams around the league have followed suit as it’s a lower-cost way of building some loyalty with players as well. “It tells me my hard work is paying off,” Sankey said, “and also how they place value on the practice squad.”
On his relationship with Tom Brady: “A great relationship. We were locker mates, and sat by each other, talked every day. We worked together on the field pretty good the last two years. We text. We call each other. Even throughout his suspension, I was texting him, just checking on him and stuff. And when I have a good game, he’ll text me and stuff like that. … Man, I felt a lot for my guy because he’s a great dude. I still believe he’s innocent and didn’t have nothing to do with anything that went on. I hate that it happened to him, but at the end of the day, he came back, he’s not ruined by it, he let it go and he’s playing his butt off, like he always does.”
On scoring the first touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX: “That’s one of the best moments of my life, winning a Super Bowl, scoring that touchdown. But I probably liked the touchdown against the Ravens [to win the divisional round] more than I liked the Super Bowl touchdown, because if we never scored that, we probably would have never made it there.”
6. With Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny (shoulder) placed on injured reserve Saturday and Jamie Collins questionable (hip) against the Bengals, it opens the door for rookie Elandon Roberts to possibly play more, as he did last Sunday in an impressive showing against the Browns. Roberts’ explosive downhill play against the run was evidenced when he jacked up perennial All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas, the type of play one might not expect from someone Roberts’ size (6-foot, 235 pounds). A sixth-round pick out of the University of Houston, Roberts is a good reminder that even when players don’t fit the prototype size requirements at the position, they can still be productive. While Belichick wasn’t specifically comparing Roberts to longtime NFL linebackers Ray Lewis and London Fletcher early last week, he mentioned the names of Lewis and Fletcher as those, like Roberts, who also didn’t fit the prototype.
7. The traditional practice week has usually had the Patriots working in full pads on Wednesday, with first- and second-down work and a focus on the running game. But in a change this year, the Patriots are holding more of their full-pads practices on Thursdays, which gives players a little more time to recover from the previous week’s game, and also gives them a feel for contact a little bit closer to the next game. I asked Belichick about the change this past Friday and he mostly downplayed it before saying, “It gives you a day to kind of get everything in [Wednesday] and work on it to a degree and then execute it on Thursday a second time, maybe at a little bit better tempo or level of execution.”
8. Catching up with a few former Patriots from 2016 with new teams: Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones had 15 tackles and four sacks through five games. … Right guard Josh Kline has started the past three games in Tennessee and garnered praise from coach Mike Mularkey for his performance. … Second-year cornerback Darryl Roberts made his first career start for the Jets in a Week 5 loss to Pittsburgh and was credited with two passes defended. … Rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc was credited with two passes defended and used as a punt returner in the Bears’ Week 5 loss to the Colts. … Tight end Clay Harbor played 23 offensive snaps in his Lions’ debut (and 5 on special teams) in Week 5, but didn’t register on the stat sheet. … Defensive tackle Dominique Easley had five tackles and a half-sack (first of the season), as he’s played in all five games as a reserve for the Rams (13 tackles). … Receiver Keshawn Martin has been inactive in two games since signing with the 49ers. … Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill has played in all four games for the Eagles, mostly on special teams. ... Former practice squad receiver Devin Street has been inactive in three games with the Colts.
9. NFL owners will head to Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday for the league’s annual fall meeting, and some of the items on the agenda include stadium updates from Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego; competition committee and game-operation mid-season reports; and a review of the collective bargaining agreement in its sixth year (of a 10-year term). Nothing major on the agenda, it seems.
10. The color-rush uniforms and old-helmet logo that the Denver Broncos wore in Thursday night’s loss to the San Diego Chargers sparked some discussion on Twitter as to why New England doesn’t wear the “Pat Patriot” logo in its color rush/throwback-uniform games.
@MikeReiss thought teams couldn't use "throw back" helmets?? Why are Broncos using them tonight? (Asking cuz I love the Pats oldies)— Jeremy Dugan (@Jerdugan) October 14, 2016
@MikeReiss Love that Denver is going with the throwback helmets. NE color rush unis would have been so much better with Pat Patriot helmet— TravelingHiker (@1972GoBlue) October 14, 2016
A Broncos official relayed that they simply swapped out the decal on their current helmets (which is the only option per NFL safety and health rules). The Patriots could do the same with “Pat Patriot” on their current silver helmets, but the feeling has been it wouldn’t be a good look compared to the old white New England helmets.