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Sunday, November 11, 2012
Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

By Mike Reiss

Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. Patriots rookie running back Brandon Bolden was suspended four games Friday for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, and two personnel evaluators we spoke with weren't surprised. Even though Bolden was a captain at Ole Miss, they had reservations about him from an off-field perspective coming into the 2012 draft, and included that in their scouting reports. Bolden was suspended while at Ole Miss as well (link here). The Patriots give players a clean slate when they first arrive, but Bolden's present suspension, coupled with his past suspension, don't cast a favorable light on his judgment in consecutive seasons. Perhaps there is an explanation for both, and it will be interesting to see what steps Bolden takes, if any, to clear his name.

2. If the Patriots didn't have joint practices with the Buccaneers in late August, I'm not sure they make the trade for cornerback Aqib Talib. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noted that Talib made a solid impression in those two sessions. It is rare for a team to have practice tape of a player they might acquire, and that seemed like a significant factor given the Patriots couldn't talk with Talib directly because he was on suspension.

Jairus Byrd
In the NFL, Bills safety Jairus Byrd has been better than fellow Oregon alum Patrick Chung.
3. In the battle of former University of Oregon safeties, Jairus Byrd (Bills) has outperformed Patrick Chung (Patriots) in the NFL after both arrived as second-round draft choices in 2009 -- Byrd 42nd overall and Chung 34th overall. We'll get a closer look at the ballhawking Byrd (54 of a possible 56 games played, 16 career INTs) today when the Bills visit Gillette Stadium. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that Chung (44 of a possible 56 games played) will be on the field, as he's battling shoulder and hamstring injuries in what has continued a frustrating two-year stretch health-wise for him.

4. Many examples can be cited of how it is a long season and a team can be written off one week only to revive itself a few weeks later. One that stands out from here: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed many were saying they were too old on defense and couldn't consistently protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But similar to the Patriots, I appreciate the resiliency of the Steelers' franchise. They are built to last, and once again, in the hunt at 5-3 after last Sunday's big road win over the Giants. They host the Chiefs on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" this week and should improve to 6-3 to keep pace in the AFC.

5. CBS has assigned Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Dan Fouts (analysis) to call today's Patriots-Bills game, setting up a unique possibility of a quarterback on the field (Tom Brady) matching the record of a former quarterback (Fouts) who will be analyzing the performance. If Brady passes for more than 300 yards today, he'll tie Fouts with his 51st career game of 300 yards or more passing -- which is sixth-best all time.

6. Bills general manager Buddy Nix said Friday on radio station WGR that Buffalo needs to address the quarterback position in 2013. That's no ringing endorsement for incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom the Bills signed to a six-year, $59 million contract extension during the 2011 regular season. The Bills were on a roll when they rewarded Fitzpatrick, but then bottomed out. In retrospect, they would have been better off waiting to address the Fitzpatrick contract until after the 2011 season, and if need be, potentially buying more time with a one-year franchise tag ($14.4 million). Nix's comments on the quality of quarterbacks in the upcoming 2013 draft were also of interest, as relayed by the Buffalo News.

7. It is always dangerous to read into one game, but Thursday night's Colts-Jaguars matchup spoke loudly from this viewpoint: The Jaguars need a fresh start. When I watch quarterback Blaine Gabbert, I see shades of an early-career Alex Smith and David Carr. Too early to say he's a bust, but you wonder how much his early-career struggles will damage him long-term. Quarterback Chad Henne gives the Jaguars the better chance to win now, but if the present regime is to survive, it needs Gabbert to be the man.

8. No doubt, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is the primary reason for the Colts' surprising 6-3 start. He is the real deal. But based on the hype surrounding him, and my limited exposure watching him prior to this week, I didn't think the two were in alignment on Thursday. I didn't come away with a "wow" type of feeling from Thursday's win over the Jaguars. Saw some impressive athleticism and poise but also some shaky decisions there.

9. With the Colts coming to town next Sunday, here is a remarkable stat: They have forced just six turnovers all season (3 of those came Thursday night against the woeful Jaguars), which is easily a league low. Bill Belichick often says turnovers are the one statistic that correlates most to winning and losing, but that's not the case with this year's Colts, who have a minus-9 turnover differential after Thursday's victory.

10. For those interested in revisiting some of Robert Kraft's early years as owner of the Patriots, and how difficult he found it to work with Bill Parcells, excerpts from Gary Myers' book "Coaching Confidential" in Sunday's New York Daily News are linked here. Kraft doesn't hold back on Parcells in his comments. "The whole Parcells experience was horrible in many ways. He tortured me," Kraft says.