Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. I thought the highlight of the week, from a media perspective, was Robert Kraft’s news conference on Friday. It is easy to see how much this season has meant to him and his family.
2. Was a little surprised that the Giants waited until Saturday to leave for San Francisco. Their flight was delayed for almost two hours because of a mechanical problem, according to a team spokesman. Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger details how Tom Coughlin doesn’t like to stray from his routine (link here). From covering the Patriots, when they travel to the West Coast, they usually depart the Friday before a Sunday game.
3. Surprised the Dolphins went with Joe Philbin as their 10th head coach in franchise history. I figured owner Stephen Ross would want a bigger name. At the same time, I’m thrilled for Philbin, who grew up in Longmeadow, Mass., coached at Northeastern and Harvard, and spoke Saturday about his time at Worcester Academy shaping his career. Philbin delivered a great opening news conference Saturday, much like Bill O’Brien did at Penn State earlier this month.
4. I didn’t read too much into Robert Kraft’s remarks on receiver Wes Welker and a possible contract extension – “I think Wes wants to be here and we want him here” -- because it didn’t hit on the key issue: The two sides finding a middle ground on a deal that both can feel good about. If both sides want it to get done, why has it taken so long?
5. Matt Russell, the Broncos’ new director of player personnel, seems like an example of a real football guy being rewarded for his work. He scouted for the Patriots in 2001 and from 2003-2005, playing a significant role in the Matt Cassel selection (Sports Illustrated link here). Between Russell, director of pro personnel Keith Kidd, and national scout Adam Peters, the Broncos have three former Patriots staffers in big roles.
6. Looking forward to watching speedy rookie Ravens receiver Torrey Smith today. The Patriots have had some trouble drafting and developing pass-catchers in recent years and spent a lot of time with Smith before the draft. They went with running back Shane Vereen in the second round at No. 56, with Smith going to the Ravens two picks later.
7. The Rams took heat from some of their fans for giving up a home game in each of the next three seasons to play a game in London. If I was a season-ticket holder, I’d share the same thoughts because the value of my investment was just lessened and I lost the chance to see Tom Brady play in St. Louis.
8. For those already looking ahead to the draft, media coverage of the NFL combine is scheduled for Feb. 23-Feb. 26. February will be a busy month in Indianapolis, the city which hosts both the Super Bowl and combine.
9. It’s a battle of former No. 1 overall picks today in the NFC Championship Game between the Giants and 49ers – Eli Manning (2004) vs. Alex Smith (2005). Did you know this marks just the second time in NFL history that two quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall will face each other in a conference championship game? The 1998 AFC Championship Game between the Jets (Vinny Testaverde, 1987) and Broncos (John Elway, 1983) was the only other time it happened.
10. Thought it was interesting to hear Robert Kraft mention his feeling that Bill Belichick’s background as a special teams coach played a big part in his ability of putting together winning teams in the salary-cap era. We don’t see too many special teams coaches get a shot at a head-coaching job. The Ravens’ John Harbaugh, on the opposing sideline today, is one of the few.