Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. This week’s roster transactions of tight end Rob Gronkowski being placed on season-ending injured reserve and defensive lineman Marcus Forston’s promotion from the practice squad were the Patriots’ 44th and 45th moves on the active roster since the season-opener. That’s not a lot compared to a typical Bill Belichick season. Last year, for example, there were 70 transactions on the active roster from the season-opener to now. This is a reflection of better health and stability on the roster in 2012.
2. I don’t think it’s fair to players that the regular-season fines levied by the NFL –- which are already excessive -- carry into the playoffs. Consider the cases of Patriots Steve Gregory and Stephen Gostkowski, who were each fined $15,750 in last Sunday’s divisional-round playoff win over the Texans for unnecessary roughness. Each player is awarded a $22,000 share for playing in the game, so unless the fines aren’t overturned on appeal, Gregory and Gostkowski would ultimately net $6,250 for their work because of one infraction. I know a lot of folks would be happy with that for a one-day payday, but when it comes to football economics, that doesn’t seem right.
3. Patriots safety Patrick Chung played at Oregon under Chip Kelly and this is how he described the Philadelphia Eagles’ new head coach: “He’s a good, hard-working, fun coach. I’m very confident in Coach Kelly, that’s my dude. He’s kind of like Belichick. He makes you work. He doesn’t care what you did, or where you came from, if you’re not working he’s not messing with you.”
4. With close Belichick ally Michael Lombardi being named Cleveland Browns vice president of player personnel, one can expect an open level of communication between the two clubs with potential trades. In a passionate radio interview defending Lombardi, CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz mentioned the link between Lombardi and Belichick a couple of times. It’s fun to speculate, and some wonder if perhaps Lombardi would have an interest in Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but I’d be surprised if that happens at this point. I think it would be a challenge for any personnel executive to trade a top draft chip for Mallett until there was more tangible NFL evidence on tape.
5. As Patriots players were wrapping up their work day Friday, one final meeting was called. It was with the kickoff coverage unit. The Patriots struggled in that area against the Texans last Sunday, and today, they face the NFL’s No. 1 ranked unit led by Jacoby Jones. The best explanation for the struggles last week was this: 1) Too many players were getting single-blocked. The message was that players had to do better getting off blocks; 2) The Texans favored a “middle return” and coverage players didn’t play with good enough leverage against the wedge. That’s an area that naturally received a lot of attention this week.
6. The final tally this week from a media perspective: The Patriots had 16 news conferences and six conference calls leading into the AFC Championship Game, with 16 different coaches and players participating. On top of that, almost all players were made available for interviews in the locker room. That’s a lot of quotes. I also thought it was interesting that Ravens Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed elected not to do interviews this week, which would have raised a firestorm in New England had two high-profile players done the same thing.
7. There were no minorities hired among the NFL’s 14 new head coaches and personnel chiefs so far this year, which has some asking if the “Rooney Rule” has lost its effectiveness. I think it’s fair to say it’s an issue that deserves more inspection. Along those lines, two minorities with Patriots ties -- Lionel Vital and Marvin Allen -- received high-level promotions with the Falcons’ personnel department last week. That could be part of the solution, simply getting more minorities into the pipeline.
8. Did you Know, Part I: New Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was born in Boston and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College in 1982. The 61-year-old Gettleman’s thick Boston accent was noted by some in attendance at his introductory news conference last week.
9. Did you Know, Part II: Today’s Patriots-Ravens game is the first AFC Championship rematch in consecutive years since Denver and Cleveland met in 1986 and 1987. The 1986 game was when Broncos quarterback John Elway led a 98-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. The 1987 game was known for Browns running back Ernest Byner fumbling on his way to what would have been a game-tying touchdown.
10. With a few holes on their 2012 draft board, and the possibility of adding quality depth/athleticism at an area that could use a boost, the Patriots are naturally one of the teams taking a closer look at former Southern Cal and Toronto Argonauts standout defensive tackle Armond Armstead. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter noted last week that a team signing Armstead would be getting the equivalent of a high-round draft choice. The Dolphins struck it big with former CFLer Cameron Wake and I’m interested to see if the Patriots take the plunge with Armstead. Seems like something worth exploring.