FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes from the New England Patriots and around the NFL:
1. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was hard on himself after the AFC Championship Game, as his missed extra point in the first quarter ultimately contributed to the team's having to go for a two-point conversion to tie after scoring a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. When I spent time with him Tuesday while he volunteered his time visiting children at a Boston hospital, we talked about how he has moved forward.
“I’ve always been hard on myself whenever I have a bad game, especially when we lose. But I’ve never once hung my head down,” he said. “You have to have a short memory in this game, but I’m always hard on myself for a couple days, even when we win and I have a miskick. It’s a perfectionist’s job -- you strive for perfection. I expect to make every kick, and when I don’t, it’s very frustrating. I probably practice tens of thousands of kicks for every one I’ve tried in a game, and when it doesn’t go your way, it can be hard to deal with. But I’ve always been good at getting over things and not sulking and letting it mount into one bad kick after the next. I came back and made my next two kicks in the game.
“I just think the way the game ended, at the end of the game, it kind of hit me, and you only have 10 minutes to think about what to say [to the media]. I’m the kind of person that would rather take more accountability than none at all. That’s just the way I was raised. When things don’t go your way, you can either sulk [and] make excuses or take accountability, and that’s how I feel I represent myself, my family and teammates in a positive way, even when things don’t go my way. That’s what I thought about in those 10 little minutes. It hurt because I care and I want to win. But I don’t hold my head low. I work hard, I’ve done a good job, and things don’t always go your way. I’m not going to make excuses. I just felt really bad that the season came to an end.”
2. NFL teams can start designating franchise or transition players on Tuesday, but unlike last year, with Gostkowski, the Patriots shouldn’t be using the tag. I view defensive tackle Akiem Hicks as their top free agent, but it would be a big surprise if he’s in the tag discussion.
3. Patriots coaches were back in the office this past week after some well-deserved time away. A big task for the staff over the next few weeks is getting familiar with some of the prospects in the draft, as they’ll be watching and meeting with many of them at the NFL combine Feb. 23-29. Up to this point, most of the Patriots’ work on the draft has been generated by scouts, but now the coaches are getting more involved. I think of linebacker Jamie Collins as a good example of how a player can rise once coaches get more involved. Collins wasn’t rated so highly by many while he played multiple positions on a losing team in college, but as coaches got involved and projected his unique athleticism and potential growth, he became one of their more highly rated players by the time the draft came around.
4. With Dante Scarnecchia’s return to the Patriots as offensive line coach solidified, except for the official announcement (the team will likely wait to publicly disclose its entire staff until it is complete), here’s one thing I’ll be watching for: Who is his assistant? Scarnecchia turns 68 today, and just as the team is always thinking "next man up” with players, developing Scarnecchia’s successor while he’s still on staff is critical for perpetuating the franchise. That said, it obviously didn’t work out the way the Patriots envisioned with Dave DeGuglielmo, whose contract wasn’t renewed after two years as offensive line coach.
5. Adam Vinatieri, who turned 43 in December, hopes to kick for another couple seasons, and Colts owner Jim Irsay said the team would like him back. That brought a smile to Gostkowski’s face. “Good for him. The guy’s still crushing it,” said Gostkowski, who replaced Vinatieri on the Patriots in 2006. “I don’t blame him. He has a great thing going, and he’s always been the best. I’m sure the minute he’s not good any more, he’ll probably want to pack up, but he’s not showing any sign of that. It’s definitely inspirational. I can’t imagine doing it for 12 more years, but good for him. He’s the man.”
6. One scout who attended the Senior Bowl in late January relayed that he felt it was the best Senior Bowl in recent memory, as far as the talent on hand, with credit given to director Phil Savage for his overall work. Specifically, the defensive line and offensive line were cited as strong at the Senior Bowl. That could turn out to be good for the Patriots, as I have offensive tackle and defensive tackle among their top-five needs.
7. Last week, I was cleaning out a notebook and came across this from the 2015 season: When one veteran player was asked whom Patriots first-round pick Malcom Brown reminded him of, he said former Vikings defensive tackle John Randle. I always viewed Randle as more of a penetrator (137.5 career sacks) as a 3-technique, but the point seemed to be that Brown has that in him, if that’s what he is asked to do.
8. As we get closer to the NFL draft, one theme I expect is that after two off-the-charts years for wide receiver prospects, this year’s crop at the position looks a bit lean, according to some scouts. That isn't exactly great news for the Patriots, who double-dipped at receiver in 2013, didn’t get a big return on those investments (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce) and essentially missed out on the bumper crops of 2014 and 2015.
9. The Patriots are slotted to pick in the 29th position of each round in which they have their original selections, which sets up a scenario in which they won’t pick until No. 60, late in the second round. That can always change with trades, but if it sticks, it will mark the deepest the Patriots have waited to make a pick in Bill Belichick’s tenure. In 2013, they didn’t select until No. 52 and nabbed Collins, which was a steal. They’ll be looking to duplicate some 2013-type magic this year.
10. Did you know? Outside linebacker Randy Gregory (Cowboys, 2015), defensive end Kony Ealy (Panthers, 2014), cornerback Robert Alford (Falcons, 2013), offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele (Ravens, 2012), cornerback Brandon Harris (Texans, 2011), receiver Golden Tate (Seahawks, 2010) and offensive tackle Will Beatty (Giants, 2009) were the past seven players selected at No. 60. Let them serve as a reminder of the quality talent a team can pick up, highlighted by Ealy (Missouri), who had a monster Super Bowl.