Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. It’s a “character” test for the Patriots today. Last Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks was one of the most frustrating for the team in Bill Belichick’s 13-year tenure. We already know the Patriots have mental toughness from their comeback win over the Bills in Week 4, and today, we should learn even more about this team. By the end of the week, I sensed that confident players were embracing the same mindset.
2. Doesn’t get much better than this today: Ravens at Texans at 1 p.m. ET, then Jets at Patriots at 4:25 p.m. ET. It’s a wide-open AFC this year, and these three (excluding the Jets) are viewed by many as the best teams … for now. You almost get the sense that this year’s AFC, perhaps more than past years', will be a battle of attrition. Peyton Manning and the Broncos will be heard from again, too.
3. The Bills and Redskins were each fined $20,000 last week for violating NFL procedures on reporting injuries -- the Bills for failing to include defensive end Mario Williams on their injury report, and the Redskins for not properly updating media on the status of quarterback of quarterback Robert Griffin III during an Oct. 7 game against the Falcons. The thought from here: Every team is in violation of these rules to some degree each week. It just so happened that these clubs got nailed because of the high-profile players involved.
4. You thought big, physical Seahawks cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman were getting away with holding and illegal contact last Sunday against the Patriots? Well, you weren’t alone. The 49ers felt the same way about that game, and their own against the Seahawks (link here) five days later. No argument here, but if you’re Browner and Sherman, why not push the envelope and see how much leeway the officials will grant? I thought this stuff was supposed to happen only with the replacement refs.
5. As an aside, let’s see whether the NFL sends out one of its “points of emphasis” memos to teams this week about publicly referencing/complaining about officiating as there has been an uptick in chirping and public posturing from coaches. Last week, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride talked about how 49ers defensive end/linebacker Justin Smith “gets away with murder” (link here), then there were Harbaugh’s comments about the Seahawks’ defensive backs, and let’s not forget Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine directly addressing officiating when expressing concern about his team’s ability to substitute against the Patriots’ no-huddle offense today (link here). I appreciate the candor of the coaches and would like to continue to hear it on a weekly basis, but the league has rules in place when it comes to addressing officiating (it’s why Bill Belichick will seldom, if ever, speak on it), and they seem to be selectively enforced.
6. The leaguewide kickoff-return average of 24.7 yards is on pace to be the highest of any season in NFL history. Not that the Patriots have contributed to it. Their kickoff-return game remains one of the weakest in the NFL (20.3 average), which is where it’s been since the middle of the 2010 season. Danny Woodhead replaced Devin McCourty as the top returner last week, a role Woodhead previously held in 2011.
7. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has given hope to the Dolphins, who are on the bye this weekend and have every reason to feel good about their 3-3 start. Most impressive Dolphins stat: They lead the NFL in third-down defense, with opponents converting just 25.8 percent of the time. The Patriots face the Dolphins twice in December -- on the road on the 2nd, and at home on the 30th -- in games that could have major implications on the division race. First-year head coach Joe Philbin appears to have that team headed in the right direction.
8. Did you know, Part I: The Patriots have totaled at least 350 total net yards in 15 straight games, and if they do it again today, they’d tie the St. Louis Rams (aka “Greatest Show on Turf") for the longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots lead the NFL in averaging 445.3 yards per game.
9. Did you know, Part II: Patriots receiver Wes Welker’s 16 career games with at least 10 receptions is tied with former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison for the second-most of any player in NFL history. If he hits 10 today against the Jets, he’ll tie Jerry Rice (17) for the most 10-catch games. One more Welker note -- today he aims to become just the fourth player in NFL history to record three straight 10-plus-catch games.
10. There are constant reminders of how fast things change in the NFL, and here’s another one: In the second round of the 2010 draft, the Patriots selected tight end Rob Gronkowski 42nd overall, leapfrogging the Baltimore Ravens because they thought there was a chance Gronkowski might be of interest to them. With the 43rd pick, the Ravens selected defensive end/outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, a player many analysts tabbed for the Patriots in the first round. Well, Gronkowski is already on his second contract, and Kindle is looking for work after being waived by the Ravens on Saturday.
11. The Patriots will depart for London late Thursday afternoon, giving them two to three days for the bulk of preparation at home for next Sunday’s game against the Rams. The idea is that the hard work gets done at Gillette Stadium, and then it’s mostly acclimation/touch-up/finalizing details once in London. A personal note: Looking forward to connecting with Patriots fans in London next week.