FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. With the Patriots playing the first of five prime-time games over the next seven weeks Sunday night in Detroit, it shines an even brighter spotlight on receiver Josh Gordon's integration into the team's system. What is a realistic expectation for his contributions?
Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who is part of NBC's "Football Night in America" show and knows the New England culture as well as anyone, believes there are great possibilities.
“From a football standpoint, I really like the move," he said this week. "With his size, speed, and the things he can do, you don’t get this type of talent come around very often. I compared him to the Randy Moss guys I’ve seen, with this type of talent. Odell Beckham. Julio Jones. These are really special guys. If he has any chance to redeem himself, I think he’s in a perfect situation because the Patriots provide stability. The Browns never provided stability, no matter what they tried to do. When you’re losing and you have different quarterbacks and head coaches, and different general managers, you can’t provide stability to a kid that needs help. I think the fact he’s coming to the Patriots, with Bill Belichick’s reputation and Tom Brady and the stability within the program, that’s a big help. He doesn’t have to come in right away and be the guy, he can be one of those guys. For so long, they’ve wanted him to be that guy, and a lot of kids can’t handle that type of pressure.
"I would say this, if he can’t survive under Belichick, Brady and what Mr. Kraft brings, then I think his career is over. So it’s all or nothing for him."
The first question for the Patriots with Gordon this week is his health. He has not participated in full practices this week because of a hamstring injury. If he is cleared for action, the expectation is that he will be part of only one or two personnel groupings -- which would keep his snap count low -- and things would grow gradually depending on how he picks things up.
It quickly becomes one of the most intriguing storylines, set to be played out in prime time.
2a. A few more thoughts from Harrison, who has made his mark as an analyst by never holding back, leading into Sunday night's game:
On the Patriots: “Just watching them against Jacksonville really bothered me. No matter how many great players you may have on offense or defense, the one thing you control as a player is the energy you bring and the effort you bring. And I didn’t see that against Jacksonville. That’s very disturbing in the second game of the season. It’s not like you’re in the middle of the season, or the 10th or 12th week, and you’re tired. There’s no reason they shouldn’t have played with more energy and excitement. This team came out and flat-out kicked their butt, and took it to the Patriots.”
On the New England defense: “No one really scares me. Eric Rowe, he struggles. I don’t think he can hold up, quite honestly, at the cornerback position, the entire season. Dont'a Hightower doesn't look like he's playing with a lot of explosion. I don’t think they have a lot of great playmakers. And what I kind of saw last year, and talked about going into the Super Bowl, they just look slow.”
On Matt Patricia and the Lions: “It’s really too early to tell, but going back to his defense in New England last year, we saw some confusion early in the season and breakdowns in coverage. You’re seeing some more of that this year in Detroit. I love Matty P, but as a defensive-minded coach, to have those mistakes in the secondary, miscommunication and blown coverages, that’s a concern. The second thing, it seems like Matthew Stafford is trying to do too much. [Patricia] has to let him know – you don’t have to do everything, you have so many weapons, a host of really good players around you. I think that’s one of his challenges right now. The great thing about Matty P, with his personality, he has the ability from being around Belichick all those years to kind of ignore the noise. I think that’s a strength for him. Let’s face it: Coming from the Patriots, everyone has a level of disdain for us, whether you’re a player or coach. People don’t want to see you do well. So his ability to ignore the outside noise, and stick to what his fundamentals and principles are with his team, I think that’s something he needs to do and will do.”
On his broadcasting career at NBC, now in its 10th year: "When I went into this thing my first year, I didn’t know what to expect. But the one thing I’ve always tried to do is be fair and always stayed true to my beliefs. I don’t say anything to get attention, and I stick to what I believe. It’s really been a blessing for me. You see so many guys come and go on television and our producer, Sam Flood, told me this when I first came in; he said, ‘If you prepare like you did as a football player, you’ll be successful.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve prepared, watched tape, study, read, and try to make myself become a better broadcaster each year. I really appreciate the support I’ve been given – through the Patriots organization and other teams, too. When people say, ‘I love your honesty’ – that means a lot to me. That’s what I try to do – do a fair and honest job. I’ve played in four Super Bowls, I’ve covered four Super Bowls, and I’m just excited. Wherever this may take me, I’m willing to go.”
2b. The Patriots are planning a big ceremony next Saturday for the 10th anniversary of the official opening of their Hall of Fame, with Matt Light as this year's inductee. Speaking with Harrison sparked a thought: He deserves to be in, too. It's just a matter of time, as other deserving candidates such this year's other finalists, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour, will once again be strong contenders in 2019.
3. When Bill Parcells was the Patriots' coach (1993-1996), his daily news conferences would sometimes be a sparring match with reporters, and it could be entertaining theater when Parcells was pushed in areas he didn’t want to go. That’s how I viewed Belichick’s news conference on Wednesday, which took place as Gordon was dressing to get ready for practice while the coach was telling reporters the trade to acquire him hadn’t been fully completed despite being officially announced by both teams and confirmed on the NFL’s internal transaction wire. My view was that Belichick simply didn’t want to make Gordon the story of the day, and when reporters pressed him, he grew a bit agitated. While it was all professional, and Belichick surely understood why the questions were being asked, it had a throwback Parcells-type feel to it.
4. Seeing rookie practice-squad quarterback Danny Etling on the road for the Patriots’ game at Jacksonville sparked thoughts of how the Patriots did something similar with then-rookie Jacoby Brissett in 2016 when Brissett was on short-term injured reserve. The Patriots usually don’t have practice-squad players or those on IR join them on the road, but with young quarterbacks, the thought process seems to be that there’s an added benefit to traveling so they can directly be part of the game-management process on the sideline.
5. Titans coach Mike Vrabel is right when he says it’s hard to evaluate cornerback play after just two weeks, but at the same time, former Patriot Malcolm Butler has had some hard-to-miss struggles with the deep ball. He was beaten for a 75-yard touchdown in the season opener by Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, and then Will Fuller raced past him on a 39-yard touchdown last week. It seems safe to say the Titans didn’t pay $61 million over five years expecting that type of start.
6. Lions offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who was with the Patriots from 1997 to 2004 when he worked with either tight ends or the offensive line, has fond recollections of being on Belichick’s staff alongside Dante Scarnecchia. When we caught up earlier this month, I asked him what stood out to him about both of them.
On Belichick: “I’ve always said that when I got away from Bill, I always thought that he was the one head coach who I felt like could coach every position, as well as -- if not better -- than the position coaches could. I mean that sincerely. I’ve been to a lot of other places since then and I typically get the question about Bill, and I feel strongly about the knowledge I got from him and the knowledge he has in the game being second to none.”
On Scarnecchia: “Very strict. Letter of the law. Everything footwork-based, you have to be exact, and it couldn’t be more true. I think back to the way he taught, and it’s the fundamental approach with footwork, hand placement, all those things that he was such a stickler on, and the more I focused on what he said and how he did things, the better coach I became in my eyes."
7. When the Patriots released cornerback Cyrus Jones at the final cutdown on Sept. 1, he made a quick decision to sign with the Ravens' practice squad, with one person close to him explaining that part of the thinking was that a fresh start would be best after two challenging seasons in New England. So what changed 18 days later to make him want to return on the 53-man roster? The pay bump from $136,000 on a one-year deal to a two-year deal that could pay him almost $2 million was obviously part of it (the Patriots basically just gave Jones what he would have earned if they didn't cut him on Sept. 1), but one person close to him also relayed that he had a productive one-on-one meeting with Belichick that has gotten his second stint with the team off to a fresh start. Could this be Patrick Chung, Part II? Chung, too, was a second-round pick who had an underwhelming initial stint with the team before returning after a one-year stint with Philadelphia (2013). He was elevated to captain this year and has become a key cog. That would be a best-case scenario for the Patriots with Jones.
8. When I bumped into veteran quarterback Matt Cassel in the Lions’ locker room on a trip to Detroit on Sept. 3, he showed his kindness by seeking me out to say hello. Class guy. The 36-year-old Cassel has grown a lot from his time in New England (2005-2008), and his family has, too. He and his wife, Lauren, now have five children. One other thing Cassel relayed: Belichick has kept in touch with him over the years, showing a level of kindness he said he’s truly appreciated.
9. ESPN’s 30 for 30 on the late Junior Seau sparked memories of what a vibrant presence Seau was during his time with the Patriots (2006-2009). A greeting of "Hey Buddeeee!” was always upbeat, and then there was the time he would pull out his ukulele and start playing in the locker room. He also once approached me and lightheartedly told me to unzip my sweatshirt because it made me look too uptight, and I could benefit from more of a San Diego-type look.
10a. Former Patriots safety Steve Gregory (2012-2013) is a first-year defensive assistant coach on Matt Patricia’s staff in Detroit, working closely with defensive backs coach Brian Stewart. Gregory played for Stewart at Syracuse (where Patricia was also on staff) and also with the Chargers, and Stewart said the perspective of a former player has been nice to have in the meeting room. “He can be a conduit when I’m getting after them and say, ‘This is what it’s all about, this is what he’s trying to do, I played for this guy in two different places,’ Stewart said. “He’s also been great on the field and has a good command about himself.”
10b. Did You Know, Part I: Stewart and Gregory are two of eight coaches on Patricia’s staff with ties to Syracuse, one of the first stops in Patricia's coaching career.
10c. Did You Know, Part II: Former Patriots offensive lineman Billy Yates (2005-2008) is a first-year offensive assistant coach on Patricia’s staff.
10d. Did You Know, Part III: Since 2003, the Patriots are 45-6 in regular-season games following a loss.