FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. The Patriots held two walkthrough practices during their playoff bye week, but that wasn’t the extent of the on-field work for some of their players. I’m told that quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Julian Edelman, in particular, spent some extra time together, and optimism remains high regarding Edelman’s availability and projected effectiveness for Saturday's divisional-round game. Prior to Edelman sustaining a broken bone in his left foot Nov. 15, he played 87.3 percent of the offensive snaps. It’s probably asking him too much to match that total in his return, but if he hits somewhere around 70 percent, that would still be a big boost.
2. Veteran running back Steven Jackson said signing with the Patriots on Dec. 22 after being out of football all season helps him close a chapter on his terms, but he’s not officially saying this is the final chapter of his 12-year career. “We’ll see how this postseason goes for me. I won’t completely close the door, but it allows for me -- if I do close it -- to rest,” he said when I asked him Thursday if this is indeed the end.
3. About 75 fans who filed into the Patriots Hall of Fame on Saturday were treated to a “playoff huddle” discussion with retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who offered insight on the team, the playoffs, and his 30-year career with the Patriots. I sat alongside Scarnecchia and one thing that stood out to me was when he was asked by an attendee if it’s realistic to expect a return to some of the more aggressive schemes the team was running earlier in the season when it was winning 10 games in a row. “Book it,” he said. “And sleep easy tonight.” Scarnecchia, who was presented with a plaque from the Pro Football Writers of America as a 2015 Dr. Z Award winner for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach, also shared how he’s encouraged by what he’s seen from Jackson, as he believes he can provide a LeGarrette Blount-type presence for New England in the playoffs.
4. With the 2015 regular season in the books, it’s timely to revisit one storyline from the preseason with the Patriots and air pressure in footballs: Some asked the question if there was a possible connection between air pressure and fumble rate. So what did we learn in 2015, a season in which the NFL instituted new protocols? The Patriots had the fewest fumbles of any offense, the best fumble rate of any offense, and one of their best fumble rates of the past decade.
5. The Browns interviewed Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia for their head-coaching vacancy on Saturday morning, and I can see why he’s an appealing candidate based on the no-ego, brainpower-laden, grind-it-out culture they hope to create under recently appointed executive vice president Sashi Brown and newly hired chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. One tough sell for long-suffering Browns fans would be the lack of success former Patriots assistants Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini had in Cleveland as head coaches, though. If the 41-year-old Patricia departs, linebackers coach Patrick Graham would be the top in-house candidate to replace him.
6. When an ego-less guy like Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn works 16 years behind the scenes with his hometown team and then is hired as Lions general manager, as he was late Friday night, that’s a feel-good local story any way you look at it. At the same time, one can’t overlook that this is a major jump from his role with the Patriots. To make a comparison, I view it as hiring a position coach with no coordinator experience as a head coach. That doesn’t mean it won’t work, but based on this dynamic, it might behoove the 39-year-old Quinn to hire a trusted assistant who has been around the block a while.
7. Did You Know, Part I: In a season in which the Patriots had 12 different offensive linemen play snaps, mostly due to injuries but in part because of an early-season rotation, the Vikings are the only team this season to start the same five offensive linemen in all 16 games, per ESPN’s Stats and Information. We’ll see that group today in the NFC wild-card round of the playoffs when the Vikings host the Seahawks: Left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Brandon Fusco, center Joe Berger, right guard Mike Harris and right tackle TJ Clemmings.
8. Did You Know, Part II: Tom Brady’s 29 career playoff appearances are tied for second all-time with Jerry Rice, and in Saturday’s divisional-round game, he will tie kicker Adam Vinatieri for the NFL’s all-time mark. That’s almost two extra seasons of football.
9. Age alone isn’t enough on its own, but with the success of Minnesota hiring now-59-year-old Mike Zimmer as head coach in 2014, Arizona hiring now-63-year-old Bruce Arians as head coach in 2013, and Carolina hiring now-64-year-old Dave Gettleman as general manager in 2013, it makes me wonder why we haven’t heard of more later-career candidates for some of the NFL’s current openings. Maybe Zimmer, Arians and Gettleman are the exceptions more than the rule, but the younger up-and-comers still seem to dominate the discussion.
10. Patriots rookie defensive end Trey Flowers, who impressed in the preseason opener with a sack of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has been rehabbing from shoulder surgery after being placed on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 1. It was a quiet rookie season overall for Flowers, the fourth-round pick from Arkansas, as he only played in one game, but that was due more to the team’s depth at the position than anything else. I’m told the shoulder surgery was more routine for Flowers to address a lingering issue.