KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL.
1. Following the final practice of the week for the Patriots, cornerback Stephon Gilmore tipped his helmet in the direction of backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. Gilmore was impressed with how Hoyer played the role of dynamic Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to give the defense a realistic look at what New England will face in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
“He always does a great job and makes it hard on us,” Gilmore said of Hoyer. “He’s been a starter in this league, so he can make all the throws.”
It is one of the most significant contributions the 33-year-old Hoyer has made to the Patriots this season, and it’s a role he calls fun. Because he doesn’t play much in games, if at all, that’s his time to let it rip.
Hoyer relayed that he’s familiar with most quarterbacks around the NFL from watching highlights, but he’ll also be coached up by the staff on some things to do.
One of the messages to him this past week, in the role of Mahomes, was to “run around.” The week before, playing the role of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, it was to “stand there” in the pocket.
The contrast could hardly be more extreme, as one of the Patriots’ primary concerns is Mahomes’ ability to extend plays. So when Mahomes scrambles, defensive backs will rely on playing a “plaster” technique in which they mirror defenders in a way Gilmore described as playing defense in a one-on-one basketball game.
Thus, Hoyer got his legs moving quite a bit in practice last week, while throwing from different arm slots, although he said never threw a left-handed pass or a no-look pass that Mahomes has shown a willingness to attempt.
“It’s like being an actor,” Hoyer said. “You play a different role every time.”
2. One leftover from Robert Kraft’s interview with ESPN in which he reflected on the upcoming 25th anniversary of purchasing the team (Jan. 21): His best day as an owner was Feb. 3, 2002. “When we won that Super Bowl -- our first one, after 9/11. Waiting 42 years and winning a championship and doing it ... having a team that wore red, white and blue called the Patriots. When our nation, for the first time, had been attacked really from within. It was just a great feeling.”
3. When Bill Belichick commented on the upcoming 25th anniversary for Kraft, the last thing he said stood out to me, and reinforced what I’ve sensed of late. “Hope we can continue it for a long time,” Belichick said. My take is that Belichick, who turns 67 in April, has a lot more coaching in him for the Patriots. The window remains wide open.
Bill Belichick on Robert Kraft, with 25-year anniversary of Kraft purchasing the team coming Monday: "We have a good set-up here. He has been very supportive. Gives us a great opportunity to go out and compete every week. We've done that. Hope we can continue it for a long time." pic.twitter.com/liaGCujMHu— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 18, 2019
4. A neat moment of generational respect unfolded after the Patriots’ divisional-round victory over the Chargers last Sunday, when Rob Gronkowski connected with Antonio Gates on the field. “The way he transcended our position, it was cool to talk to him, even though it was real quick,” Gronkowski relayed, noting that the two sought each other out. Then as the two were talking, third-year Chargers tight end Hunter Henry joined them to acknowledge what Gronkowski has meant to the position. “Just showing respect,” Gronkowski explained of the exchange.
5. Chiefs running back Damien Williams hasn’t had to look far for motivation in the playoffs. When he was an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, the Colts brought him in for a visit but didn’t sign him, in part due to some medical concerns. The year before, when Williams was a restricted free agent, the Patriots brought him in for a visit but signed restricted free agent Mike Gillislee instead. Williams rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown against the Colts on Jan. 12, and now gets to face the other team that passed on him.
6. The 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl will be played Saturday, and the practices leading up to the game are just as important as the game itself. All NFL teams will be scouting the talent on hand, which provides a springboard to highlight the “Do Your Job” piece on Patriots.com in which the curtain was peeled back on the work of the team’s personnel department. Director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort, who had been denied the opportunity to interview for the Houston Texans' general-manager job last offseason, takes on a lead role.
Two sound bites from the scouts being addressed:
Ossenfort: “In the end, the narrative that you put in the box of a player’s future, saying exactly what he is to this team, and what he’ll do for us, I can’t overemphasize the importance of that.”
Director of player personnel Nick Caserio: “The more you can evaluate these players against the best competition possible, that matters. Smart, tough, dependable, reliable, good fundamental player that can play well under pressure.”
7. Did You Know: Tom Brady (41) and Patrick Mahomes (23) have the largest age gap of any starting quarterbacks in a conference championship game, at 18 years and 45 days.
8. When Bill Parcells talks about coaching, I make it a point to listen. What he said about the NFL’s latest head-coaching hiring cycle, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio, should be must listening for many owners. “I think you can tell what the intent is on the part of the owners; they’re trying to duplicate a couple of things they’ve seen, and you just can’t go get a guy that’s an offensive coach. You have to have a team leader that stands up in front of the team and can command respect -- both sides of the ball and understands how a team should play the game with the particular athletes they have to give that team, that year, in this game, the best chance to win. That’s never going to change. ... They come in all shapes and sizes, but I don’t think you can just say, ‘We’re going to get an offensive guy and that’s going to be the key to our success.’ It just never works out like that."
9. A week like the one that just passed for the Patriots puts added stress on the support staff in terms of travel logistics and hotel accommodations/meeting space. The Patriots could have departed for Kansas City on Friday, and at one point, that seemed to be the way things were leaning with the weather in mind. But things shifted over the course of the week and the club ultimately kept to its normal schedule with a Saturday departure. This is a point Belichick sometimes makes at the end of the season: There are a lot of people who do easy-to-overlook work behind the scenes, allowing the coaches and players to focus on what they need to do if they are to be at their best on the field Sunday.
10. If the Patriots lose to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, it will mean that Patriots Football Weekly -- the team's official newspaper -- will publish its final-ever issue after the game. And if the Patriots advance to Super Bowl LIII, the post-Super Bowl issue will be the last issue. The media world has changed since the newspaper published its first issue in the mid-1990s, and much of what PFW originally did is now found on the team's website, which is one of the best in the NFL. I am a proud alum of Patriots Football Weekly. Editor-in-chief Fred Kirsch hired me fresh out of college, taught me the football ropes over two seasons, and still seeing him on a daily basis is part of what makes covering the team so enjoyable. My first assignment was a road game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field in the 1997 preseason, and who wouldn't sign up for that? What a ride it's been ever since. Thanks to Fred, it all started at Patriots Football Weekly.