Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's right throwing hand took at least one big hit in last week’s 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets, and CBS television cameras showed Brady flexing his fingers and looking at his hand on the sideline (third quarter and fourth quarter), so it wasn’t a big surprise that Brady’s middle and ring fingers were bandaged together Saturday. It also could be part of the reason Brady, who was listed on the injury report due to his right shoulder, was limited in practice Thursday for the first time this season. I watched every Brady pass play from last week and it looked decisive to me that it was the first play of the third quarter -- when he was sacked by Quinton Coples -- that produced the hit that led to the discomfort. The next play, of course, was Brady’s pick-six. This will be something to watch Sunday against the Dolphins, specifically if Brady’s accuracy is further affected by any discomfort with his fingers. Brady was 11-of-18 before the hit last Sunday. He was 11-of-28 after it.
2. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has taken Marcus Forston under his wing since Forston arrived in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Wilfork has done the same for others over the years, but it seems fair to say the connection with Forston (also a defensive tackle) runs a bit deeper, strengthened in part by their ties to their alma mater, the University of Miami. Forston, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster on Oct. 12, has been meeting with Wilfork at his home twice a week to study tape.
3. We often talk about how a player makes the biggest jump from his rookie season to his second, but it hasn’t happened at this point for Patriots 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette. That was one of my biggest takeaways from the Patriots’ signing of veteran defensive end Andre Carter on Wednesday. The team obviously wanted to improve its depth at the position, but that wouldn’t have been as necessary if Bequette (14 defensive snaps played this year) was viewed differently by the coaching staff. Bequette has been No. 4 on the depth chart behind every-down starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, and rookie Michael Buchanan. In recent weeks, Buchanan has tailed off a bit, as well, taking himself out of plays by rushing too far up the field.
4. When Bill Belichick said that the Jets were pushing on a field goal attempt last week, I didn’t take that as much as a shot against the rival Jets as it was remarks directed toward the NFL’s officiating department. The Jets obviously didn’t have the same type of orchestrated push as the Patriots. But if the rule is no pushing teammates on a field goal block, the Jets easily could have been flagged for the same infraction -- Quinton Coples pushing Muhammad Wilkerson on Stephen Gostkowski’s 44-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Jets special-teams coach Ben Kotwica acknowledged there was contact, but called it incidental, even though it appeared from this view that Coples’ right arm followed through with force as Wilkerson flipped over snapper Danny Aiken. I was hoping the NFL would have aligned the plays and explained why one was a penalty and one wasn’t, as it’s a new rule (instituted for safety purposes) and this is the first time it’s been called. If the league did so, I missed it.
5. Like others, we were hard on Bills defensive end Mario Williams last year for not being a major factor despite such a big pay day. But if there was one thing that stood out from watching the Bills’ 23-21 win over the Dolphins last Sunday, it was that Williams was dominating at times. Sure, part of it was that he was going up against overmatched right tackle Tyson Clabo, but still, here’s credit where it’s due for a player in a situation where it’s almost impossible to meet expectations because of the big contract he signed. Williams has 10 sacks entering Week 8 play, tied for second in the NFL.
6. In terms of big, physical defensive lines, a strong case could be made that the AFC East is the best division in the NFL. The point was brought up to Belichick this week and he pointed out the high number of first-round draft choices selected within the division over the past few years -- Buffalo with Marcell Dareus (2011) to go along with big free-agent signing Mario Williams; the New York Jets with Muhammad Wilkerson (2011), Quinton Coples (2012) and Sheldon Richardson (2013); and Miami with Jared Odrick (2010) and Dion Jordan (2013), who aren’t front-line starters but complement an already strong unit. The Patriots selected defensive end Chandler Jones with their top pick in 2012, but as noted a few weeks ago, they haven’t drafted a big defensive tackle since the 2010 seventh round and that figures to be a higher priority in 2013. It’s also why ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter’s trade-suggestion piece that linked Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph to the Patriots made a lot of sense from this perspective.
7. Did you know: Among 36 qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL this season, Tom Brady ranks 31st in completion percentage (55.4). In addition to completion percentage, he has a career low in touchdown passes, total QBR, yards per attempt and times sacked.
8. If it seems like there have been more dramatic fourth-quarter finishes across the NFL this season, well ... it’s because there have been. As ESPN Stats & Information notes, through the first seven full weeks of the NFL season, 29 of 107 games (27.1 percent) have been decided by a fourth-quarter comeback victory. Since the 1970 merger, that’s the second-highest percentage of games with a fourth-quarter comeback win. Only 1989 had a higher percentage (31.3 percent).
9. This week’s Thursday night game, in which the Panthers posted a 31-13 road win over the Buccaneers, produced a few follow-up thoughts as it relates to the Patriots: (1) Was impressed by quarterback Cam Newton and think the Nov. 18 Monday night game in Charlotte now looks tougher than it initially did when the schedule first came out; (2) The Buccaneers' defense has tailed off considerably since the Patriots saw them Sept. 22. Looks like a unit that has talented players but isn’t playing together; (3) The Panthers are 4-3 and first-year general manager Dave Gettleman is putting his imprint on the club, but at the same time, it seems fair to say we’ll learn a lot more about them after the next four games: versus Falcons, at 49ers, versus Patriots and at Dolphins.
10. While not at the same level, Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan’s face-the-music comments to reporters Friday -- in which he apologized to fans and viewers for grabbing his crotch as he crossed the goal line following a 79-yard interception return last Sunday -- reminded me of Matthew Slater during his rookie year. In 2008, Slater had a kickoff bounce off his face mask that was recovered by the Steelers, and it turned out to be a big play in a lopsided Patriots loss. Slater was swarmed by reporters after the game and despite being told by one teammate that he didn’t have to answer any questions, he still did. From this view, that spoke highly of his character. Ryan, despite making a mistake last Sunday, also seems like a stand-up guy.