DENVER -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. When is it too early to draft a development quarterback? It’s a topical question to ask with the Patriots and Broncos meeting tonight in Denver, because the franchises did it in almost the same spot two years apart. In 2012, the Broncos selected Brock Osweiler in the late second round (57th overall) to groom behind then 36-year-old Peyton Manning. In 2014, the Patriots picked Jimmy Garoppolo late in the second round (62nd overall) to pair behind then 36-year-old Tom Brady. I asked Bill Belichick this week if he saw any connection between Osweiler and Garoppolo and he said, "Not really so much. It’s kind of worked out differently for Jimmy." My translation: When your starter is 36 and older, tomorrow isn’t a given, but Brady keeps bucking the odds by turning back the clock.
2. Similar to New England, where the selection of Garoppolo was hotly debated, the same was true with Osweiler in Denver. Why select a potential replacement for the quarterback, the "succession plan" if you will, when you could be investing in weapons to surround the top guy? On the night the Patriots selected Garoppolo, Belichick touched on Brady’s age and contract status (signed through 2017) before delivering an unforgettable answer to that question, saying: “In our organization, I don’t think we would put together a team the way Indianapolis did it when they lost [Peyton] Manning and they go [2-14]." Zing!
3. Matt Hasselbeck is this year’s shining example of the value of the backup quarterback, as the 40-year-old veteran has kept the Colts’ afloat with a 3-0 record while stepping in as the starter for injured Andrew Luck. Meanwhile, the Cowboys -- who have drafted just three quarterbacks in Jerry Jones’ ownership tenure (1989-present) -- are the prime example of everything that can go wrong when not accounting well enough for the backup quarterback spot (0-7 without Tony Romo). Overall, 11 teams have had to turn to their backup to start at least one game this season, and at a position where supply doesn’t meet the demand, using a late second-round pick on a developmental quarterback is good business if there is strong conviction in the prospect. Bottom line: If the quarterback position isn't accounted for, it puts the entire team at risk.
4. Garoppolo played the role of Osweiler in practice this week, noting his height (6-foot-7), mobility and accuracy as three things that stand out to him. Osweiler is often on the move with bootlegs and waggles in coach Gary Kubiak’s offense. As for his own development, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Garoppolo said, "Part of being a backup is that you never know when your time is going to come, but you want to be ready when it does. I think I’m progressing the right way. Obviously, I have a lot of football to learn and a lot of season left to play. Film work is a huge part of it, the mental reps -- calling out the mike point (to set the protection for linemen), going through your progression in your head the way you’d do it. Having the right mindset is a huge part of it. Some guys go in [and say] 'I’m not going to play this week, I’m not going to play next week' but all of a sudden you’re in there and never know what can happen. It’s staying motivated, really."
5. The Patriots’ game against the Bills on Monday night checked in at 3 hours, 32 minutes, and it felt every bit that long with multiple delays for officials’ huddles and replay reviews. That was the team’s second longest game of the season, behind the Week 2 game against the Bills, at 3 hours, 38 minutes. A game that fits in the three-hour window is ideal, but the Patriots have only had two of them this season -- 2 hours, 57 minutes against Jacksonville and 2 hours, 58 minutes against Washington. The average time of games this season for the team is 3 hours, 13 minutes.
3:32 – Bills
3:20 – Giants
2:58 – Washington
3:02 – Dolphins
3:16 – Jets
3:26 – Colts
3:03 – Cowboys
2:57 – Jaguars
3:38 – Bills
3:00 – Steelers
6. In looking closer at the Broncos, it was a reminder of what a pleasure it was to watch cornerback Aqib Talib during his two seasons in New England (half of 2012, all of 2013). Talib has been excellent for Denver this season and clearly worth the six-year, $57 million pact -- which is essentially a three-year, $27 million deal -- he signed with the Broncos in March of 2014. The Patriots would have liked to have had Talib back, but in the end, had some reservations about making that type of commitment to him in part because of his hip. That hasn’t been an issue to this point in Denver. And as it turned out, Talib’s departure led to the arrival of Darrelle Revis in 2014. Between Talib, Revis and now Malcolm Butler, left cornerback has mostly been in good hands for the Patriots these past three-plus years.
7. Did You Know: Falcons receiver Julio Jones has 40 receptions in his past four games, which puts him in striking distance of topping the NFL record for receptions in a five-game span in a single season (53), which was set by the Patriots' Wes Welker in 2009 (via Elias Sports Bueau). Jones and the Falcons host the Vikings today.
8. The Patriots’ free-agent signing of tight end Scott Chandler in March (two years, maximum value of $5.3 million) hasn’t produced the results some thought it would (me included), with the former Bill having played 34.7 percent of the offensive snaps while totaling 14 receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns. One line of thinking was that if Chandler could total 100 receptions over 2013-2014 with quarterbacks Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel, the potential was there for big things with Tom Brady throwing him the football while playing alongside Rob Gronkowski. It hasn’t happened, in part because of Chandler’s inconsistent hands. Is there a breakthrough ahead? With a shortage at receiver tonight, the Patriots need Chandler to rise up more than ever.
9. Safety Dewey McDonald, who was released from the Patriots’ practice squad on Nov. 18 and re-signed to the active roster Nov. 26, had a quick taste of life on the free-agent circuit during his seven days away. He told me that he traveled to Kansas City to work out for the Chiefs, and also to Miami to do the same with the Dolphins. McDonald said that he also had workout with Oakland scheduled, in addition to another on that side of the country, but it was canceled when the Patriots re-signed him. Then McDonald was released by the Patriots yesterday. Crazy business, this NFL.
10. With lows in the teens and the possibility of snowfall at kickoff for the Patriots’ game at Denver tonight, this has the makings of the team’s first real "elements" game of the season (freezing temps plus snow). Both teams' ball security will be tested. If it does snow, consider this stat: The Patriots are 12-0 under Belichick in games when there is some accumulation of snow, according to the team. Meanwhile, take away the two indoor games at Dallas and Indianapolis, and these are the kickoff temperatures for the Patriots’ games this season:
vs. Steelers – 65
at Bills – 62
vs. Jaguars -- 68
vs. Jets – 58
vs. Dolphins – 58
vs. Washington – 54
at Giants – 60
vs. Bills -- 29
BOOK SIGNING: I’ll be joining Troy Brown for a signing of "Patriot Pride” at Barnes & Noble in Burlington, Massachusetts on Tuesday, Dec. 1, from 7-9 p.m. ET. Hope to see you there.