EAST RUTHREFORD, N.J. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Quarterback Tom Brady is a major stickler when it comes to his mechanics, so it was notable to me that he received a rare in-season visit from his throwing coach, Tom House, at Gillette Stadium on Thursday. House was traveling from California to Massachusetts to run one of his pitching clinics this weekend, so the in-person visit with Brady fit perfectly into his schedule. When I asked Brady on Friday about the value of such a visit, and if it makes a big difference for him, he was emphatic and spoke highly of House. “Of course,” he said. “You’ll see Sunday.”
2. Third-year Patriots guard Josh Kline deserves credit for developing from undrafted 2013 free agent out of Kent State to core contributor worthy of a two-year contract extension with a maximum value of $4.9 million that he signed last week. But like almost everything, there’s a story behind the story that has been critical to his growth, and he relayed to me that he owes a debt of gratitude to assistant coach Brian Daboll. It was Daboll, who had just joined the Patriots staff in January of 2013 after being let go in Kansas City, who personally worked out Kline at Kent State before the draft, called him after the draft to entice him to sign, and then spent the ’13 season working behind the scenes with him and fellow rookies Chris Barker and Braxston Cave as then-offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s right-hand man. Daboll is now the Patriots’ tight ends coach and his experience (e.g. four years as an offensive coordinator) and body of work is a reflection of the team’s overall strong coaching staff.
3. When a player signs a contract before free agency, it is sometimes said that he “leaves money on the table” by taking less than he might have otherwise received. It might be time to start re-thinking that type of narrative, with Patriots running back Dion Lewis the latest example. Lewis inked a two-year deal on Oct. 8 that some viewed as team-friendly, but how team-friendly is it now that Lewis is out for the year with a torn left ACL? These types of situations will vary from player to player based on what is most important to him, but given the physical nature of the game and high injury rate, it’s often hard for me to criticize a player for cashing in early and “leaving money on the table” because his next snap could be his last.
4. One area Bill Belichick has stressed to players this week is the Giants’ ability to score “bonus points,” which are those that come on defense (four touchdowns this year) or special teams (100-yard kickoff return; safety on blocked punt). That has traditionally been an area of strength for the Patriots, but it hasn’t shown up this year. Their only “bonus points” came as a result of a safety against the Dolphins on Oct. 29 when quarterback Ryan Tannehill wasn’t ready for Mike Pouncey’s snap to gift wrap two points to New England.
5. With the Patriots visiting the Giants today, it’s timely to pass along some front office perspective from New York general manager Jerry Reese, who once relayed to me how attending Patriots-Giants joint practices in 2001 provided him with an important perspective that remains relevant today. Reese was a Giants pro scout at the time, and he remembers assessing practice and thinking to himself, “The Patriots don’t look like a very strong team.” Bill Belichick probably would have agreed with him at that moment, but of course, they went on to win the Super Bowl by building momentum throughout the season. That lesson has stuck with Reese as he proceeded throughout his career from pro scout to director of player personnel (2004-2007) and general manager (2007-present). The lesson: Be cautious with sweeping full-team evaluations in training camp and early in the season.
6. In his 41 years in the NFL, Belichick has said he can’t recall dealing with the run of injuries the Patriots have had along the offensive line this year, which led to the club dressing just six blockers in its past two games (one fewer than the norm). An early-season rotation has been critical, so when some players were called upon in an emergency situation, they weren’t playing for the first time. Between the rotation and injuries, the Patriots are the only team in the NFL to have nine different offensive linemen log 100-plus snaps this season, the most in the NFL. It's more of the same today, as the team is once again short-handed up front.
7. The area from the 20-yard line to the goal line is known as the red zone to most, but it caught my attention this week that Giants coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t refer to it that way. When discussing his offense, or the Patriots’ offense, he described it as the “green zone.” That’s Coughlin’s way of stressing to players that an offense wants to have a “go” mentality in that area of the field.
8. While most other head coaches either wore camouflage headsets or sweatshirts on the sideline during Week 9 games as part of the NFL’s “Salute to Service” campaign, Belichick did not. The coach who has made the cut-sleeves gray hoodie a fashion statement in New England did his part by putting an NFL-themed pin about halfway down the left side of his plain blue Patriots light jacket. When I see things like that, I often wonder the reaction of the folks at NFL headquarters, and also how Belichick -- a big military supporter -- seems to take some pleasure in being a nonconformist.
9a. Did You Know, Part I: Between Giants kicker Josh Brown (23 straight) and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (28 straight), it’s been a combined 22 regular-season games since either of them has missed a field goal (Dec. 21, 2014 for Brown and Nov. 30, 2014 for Gostkowski). The NFL record for consecutive field goals is 42, set by Mike Vanderjagt of the Colts from 2002-2004.
9b. Did You Know, Part II: Gostkowski is on the cusp of the Patriots' all-time record for field goals, as he enters today’s game against the Giants with 262. Adam Vinatieri holds the record of 263.
10. Thursday night’s NFL-themed “color rush” with the New York Jets wearing all green and the Buffalo Bills all red sparked memories of the time the Patriots wore all blue in a 28-10 home loss to the Packers on Oct. 13, 2002. As Troy Brown remembers it, the team’s captains had pitched the idea, and Belichick agreed to go along with it. After an uninspiring performance, Brown remembered Belichick giving the captains a piece of his mind for focusing on the wrong things. “Don’t worry what you look like, worry more about the way you’re playing because it stinks!”
EXTRA POINT: I’ll be joining Troy Brown for a book signing of “Patriot Pride” on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at the Patriots Pro Shop at Gillette Stadium (6-7 p.m. ET). Hope to see you there.