Patriots Thursday Observations, Bengals Review

Welcome home, Tom Brady. The longest-tenured Patriot had himself a day on Sunday, leading a second-half offensive outburst that helped get the home team past the can’t-get-out-of-their-own-way Bengals, 35-17. New England sits at 5-1 and travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. Eastern, which should be an interesting game given the Steelers’ roster adjustments.

Some compelling story lines vs. the Bengals, including some none-too-surprising events unfolding near the end.

Player/Game Observations

Tom Pain: Cincinnati certainly felt it in the second half. After a more human-like 12 of 16 (75 percent) for 136 yards and one touchdown in the first two quarters, Our Tom connected on 17 of 19 passes (89 percent) for 240 yards and two TDs after halftime. Overall, he completed 29 of 35 passes for 376 yards and three scores, giving him an 83 percent completion rate for the game. Now, that’s a disappointing number if you’re Larry Bird shooting free throws (lifetime .886 avg), but Larry never had to worry about getting his foul shots intercepted.

You’d think, after having a month without practice or even any contact with the team, the man would come in with some timing and/or accuracy issues. Nope. Instead, it looks like he’s been sitting back and connecting with receivers like he used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home. I mean, no, he wasn’t perfect, but 83 percent is pretty close, right?

Brady just passed quarterback Steve Grogan for longest-tenured Patriot with 17 years in New England. Growing up, I loved Grogan. It wasn’t official, but I considered myself a citizen of Grogan Country. Well, Ol’ Steve had a 52.3 career completion percentage. Brady is currently at 63.7 for his career. His 76 percent after two games will get lower as the season progresses, but every Patriots fan has to remember: this is pretty good stuff we’re witnessing.

Train Rob-bery: Lookout! It’s a runaway Gronk! Tight end Rob Gronkowski got the offense locomotivated (note: not really a word) with seven receptions for a career-best 162 yards and one touchdown. With a mix of crossing patterns, sideline and seam routes, and just plain old posting up (you can see his highlights here), Gronk is fast turning into the spike machine we’ve known and loved. If teams gear up to stop him – which they have to, now – look for Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, James White and others to benefit.

Ghost Protocol: A couple of years ago, Bill Belichick got the idea to make the extra-point kick a less-than-sure thing, and the NFL competition committee went with it. As expected, percentages decreased last season, from 99.3 in 2014 (eight total misses) to 94.2 in 2015 (71 total misses). Belichick must have thought, hey, I’ve got the best kicker in the league, this can only be good for us, right? Yipes. So far, Stephen Gostkowski has missed three field goals (nine of 12) and one extra point.

As a Bird lover who practiced free throws for hours and never got significantly better, I can tell you: it’s in his head. Time will tell if he can get back to his old, automatic self. I’m sure we’ll all be keeping an eye on the Patriots’ tryout list.

Riding Coach: What a difference between halves. New England adjusted to the Bengals’ offense, foregoing much of their earlier zone defense for more man-based schemes. Cincy QB Andy Dalton opened up the game 10 for 10 for 93 yards; from there, he went 11 of 20. The Patriots offense got the ball out more quickly and found open pockets in Cincy’s D that allowed receivers to catch the ball and run like pronghorns out on the prairie. Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit has some strong film study in this piece elucidating how New England keyed on Cincinnati’s linebackers in the second half.

We Can Dance If We Want To: But not if you’re Andy Dalton trying to escape the clutches of Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The defensive captain had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks, including the tone-changing safety in the third quarter. A well-timed, well-executed play by New England, as tackle Alan Branch, linebacker Elandon Roberts, and tackle Malcolm Brown occupied Cincinnati’s middle three O-linemen, creating a gap between the center and guard that Hightower exploited. A game-changer making the score 14-12 and giving the home team the ball back. About two minutes later, Gronkowski hauled in a worm-skimming pass for a 19-14 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Elandon Calling: How inaccurate is draft status in terms of determining a player’s worth? Seriously. New England has done a better-than-average job at selecting players – so much so that they had to cut some potential contributors at the beginning of the season (number eight in Mike Reiss’ very necessary Sunday column) –  but look at what sixth-round rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts has done. Seen initially as a special-teamer/linebacker-in-case-of-emergency-only by some (including me), Roberts has filled in nicely for Jamie Collins, playing in 50 of 68 snaps Sunday and compiling seven tackles. He had a notably nifty stop at the goal line where he raced to the running back like a kid hustling after piñata candy. He also elicited an offensive holding call on his pass rush. The Pats were smart to take Roberts when they did, but where would he go if the draft happened today?

One Nice Stand: The Patriots’ red zone defense has had its issues, forgotten for a few minutes during their impressive goal-line stand around the 10-minute mark of the second quarter. Giovanni Bernard gained five yards from the six, but from the one-yard line, the Bengals’ attempts to dance in the end zone were met with the Patriots playing the minister from Footloose. On second down, Roberts started a good six yards from the line of scrimmage and came careening toward the offensive left side, undercutting the attempted block of D-lineman/ersatz fullback Domata Peko (aka The Dude With The Hair) and smacking Bernard at the two, getting help from Brown and Hightower to pig-pile at the one. (Roberts got dinged up on the play and had to leave the game temporarily.)

Third down, a fade route to the left, A. J. Green vs. Malcolm Butler. Butler did enough hand-checking to stay on top of Green, with the ball bouncing off the receiver’s gloves.

Fourth down, and it wasn’t even close. Bernard headed toward the line and hit a torrent of humanity, as Woodrow Hamilton and Anthony Johnson shimmied past their blockers while Branch and Chris Long stood their guys up, allowing everyone in a Patriots uniform – possibly including a few fans wearing Tedi Bruschi jerseys – to stop the play at the one. Just good, solid, old-fashioned football. The end result didn’t show it, but this was a close game. This play kept it that way.

Random Observations

He’ll Pass: When I lived in New York, I used to go to Professor Thom’s, a Boston sports bar on the Lower East Side. Watched some historical stuff there, both coincidentally involving Kansas City in 2008: Jon Lester’s no-hitter vs. the Royals (“Honey, I’ll head home soon, but, ah, let’s just say Lester’s having a REALLY good game“) and Brady’s debut vs. the Chiefs (“God DAMNIT”). Every once in a while, I’d come across a Patriots fan who was also a Yankees fan, or a Red Sox fan who also rooted for the Giants. As someone born in Boston who spent my childhood pretty close to that area, rooting for two different cities’ teams always seemed odd to me. I know it happens, but sometimes sports don’t mix with other sports. So, if that’s true, then sports sure as heck don’t mix with politics. recently posted a Sound FX video of Brady highlights that I’ve watched several times already. I think he should be mic’d up for every game for the rest of his career; seriously, I’d run that loop 24/7. That said, I don’t need to know much else about Brady. I don’t really need to sit down to dinner with him (I like pizza, and ice cream not necessarily high in healthy fats). I don’t need to know his politics. As long as he keeps contributing to charities and playing as hard as he can, I’m not asking for anything else.

Mission To Marvin: This column by Ian Logue of covered the Bengals disciplinary issues well, but I thought it was worth mentioning here.

Here’s a section of my notes from the fourth quarter, verbatim: Pac-Man lost it after pen. (holding Hogan), then Burfict in Gronk’s face after catch. (And yes, I now understand he spells it Pacman.)

Okay, the call on PacmanJones was questionable. So, what do you do? Play football, right? But Jones got so riled up that, it appeared, the Bengals were not lined up on defense for the ensuing play and had to call a timeout. Does Jones, a 33-year-old man in his 10th season, seem like a calming veteran presence? Is linebacker Vontaze Burfict worth the trouble? Coach Marvin Lewis seems to think so.

Watch the fourth quarter again and pay attention to the post-whistle stuff (including when Burfict appears to intentionally step on LeGarrette Blount’s leg). After Burfict was fined $75,000 for said stomp, Lewis said, “I don’t think he did anything wrong.” Not sure what Lewis was looking at, but the real kicker is that Lewis complained that the fine stemmed from Burfict’s reputation due to past indiscretions.

Umm … yes. Yes, Marv, it did. Your linebacker has been fined for groin-punching (2013), ankle-twisting (2014), and ankle-targeting (2015), and those don’t even include his illegal hit to the head that helped the Steelers to victory in the AFC Wild Card game. He’s an issue, so let’s hope no one needs to get seriously hurt before his coach takes him to task.

The Imagination Agency: If you’re tired of troll journalism where opinion is everything, I’d advise a look at this piece by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. In it, Daniels follows up on how tight end Martellus Bennett got to know his teammates by hitching rides with them to get to practice. Ten people are quoted in the piece, a testament to Daniels’ persistence and his imagination in how to frame the story. He sets himself apart, not by ranting or offering up counterpoints to common thought, but by asking specific questions of people who have specific, yet thoughtful, answers. Solid piece that deserves attention.

We Can Leave Your Friends Behind: Was anyone else surprised by how CBS handled showing the goal-line stand and the safety, replay-wise? Big plays that didn’t get their due, in my opinion. Let’s focus on the broadcast of the safety. The play happens, then we spend 20 seconds watching Hightower celebrate in the end zone with other defenders before heading to the sideline, with Ian Eagle saying what we already know (“New England has cut the Cincinnati lead to two. Hightower makes the play on the quarterback”), then we go to commercial. And not just one, “Now you can have a McGriddle at 10 p.m. and devour your self-loathing!” commercial. Nope: McDonald’s, Toyota, Verizon, and a quick CBS self-promo for what I’m sure is a hilarious reworking of “The Odd Couple,” because the original just had it so wrong.

Then, once we return to the game, we get the post-safety punt/kickoff (punt-off?). We don’t get to see a replay for a few minutes. That replay included one view from behind the defense and no real explanation of how it worked other than Dan Fouts saying, “Nobody picks him up until it’s too late.” Yeah, but Roberts blitzed and occupied the center, and the guard double-teamed Brown, so Hightower’s delayed A-gap blitz …

You know what? Forget it. I like Fouts in general, but I can’t expect that much from a color commentator who called Elandon Roberts “Eldon.”

The Times Are Tough Now, Just Gettin’ Tougher: Here’s a pet peeve I’ve had for a while: What’s up with knee pads that don’t cover the knees? I first remember seeing this phenomenon with Marcus Allen, and wondering how in the hell a running back could sprint into a cluster of tacklers with any confidence knowing that his knees didn’t have protection. I guess it’s for freedom of movement, but when it comes to knees it’s hard for me as a Patriots follower to forget the fate of poor Hart Lee Dykes. Also, in the era when I last suited up, most players dressed like Robocop, with plenty of coverage.

Another Saturday Night And I Ain’t Got Parody: You know, I actually feel bad for the writers of “Saturday Night Live.” How can anyone effectively satirize this election season? What can you exaggerate and/or make funnier? At this point, it’s like trying to write a parody of Gallagher’s act. “Hey, maybe instead of using a sledgehammer, we could blow up the watermelons with C-4?” That said, there’s just not a lot of life to their sketches. One of the first offerings of the season – this bit with Margot Robbie about a live news report – delivered, with numerous cast members meshing well. In ensuing weeks, though, the pickings have been slim, with decent, oft-absurd ideas failing to get the proper execution.

Meh. I’ve actually seen worse. My junior-high heyday came in the forgettable-at-best early 1980s, when it was Eddie Murphy and not a heck of a lot else.

Why Are You So Far Away From Me? Another game across the sea, New York vs. Los Angeles, 9:30 a.m. Eastern. The Rams took a 10.5-hour flight on Monday to adjust to an eight-hour time difference. The Giants will travel Friday to adjust to a five-hour time change. London, folks! Me ol’ bamboo!

Please consider spending your Sunday morning doing something else besides watching this crumpet-load – or, more likely, having it on in the background.

Chris Warner puts the over/under on comments until the section gets hijacked at 1.5. He can also be tweeted: @cwarn89 

Pats Thursday Observations, Browns Review

The Patriots went to Cleveland and did the expected, reaching 4-1 overall by overtaking the Browns, 33-13. They host Cincinnati next Sunday at 1 p.m.

Yup. That’s it. Not much to report. Well, except for a few small details…

Player/Game Observations

Genius Of Love: Oh, Tom Tom Club? Sure. Members of said establishment must have felt happy with the return of Tom Brady, who was suspended for no good reason whatsoever.  The world’s greatest quarterback returned with what some might call a vengeance, completing 28 of 40 passes (70 percent) for 406 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday, New England hosts the Bengals, who lost at Dallas last week, 28-14.

Loosen Up Your Too Tights: The recipient of Brady’s three TD passes was tight end and fantasy football roller-coaster Martellus Bennett, who ended up with six receptions for 67 yards. Though his line mate Rob Gronkowski didn’t score, he caught five passes for 109 yards, including this schoolyard romp through half of the Browns’ defense to set up the visitors’ first touchdown.

Before Brady’s return, Gronk had caught one pass for 11 yards. Bennett had one touchdown reception. So, yes: release the hounds!

What Can Brown Do For You? Stop the run, apparently. Second-year defensive lineman Malcom Brown had three tackles, a statistic which tells about as complete a story as my daughter does after knocking something over.

Sweetie, what happened?


I know it was an accident, but what happened?

“I don’t know.”

Brown consistently manipulates his blocker and causes problems for opposing offenses. Between him, veteran Alan Branch, and rookie Woodrow “All Right” Hamilton, the defensive line helped shut down the Brown’s previously vaunted rushing attack, as Isaiah Crowell – who came into the game averaging 6.5 yards per rush – tallied just 22 yards on 13 carries (1.7 ypc, which, by the way, is a stat that tells a story).

Mr. Roberts, Report To The Captain’s Cabin On The Double: This past spring, the Patriots drafted two smaller linebackers in the sixth round: Kamu Grugier-Hill out of Eastern Illinois at the 208th selection overall, and Elandon Roberts out of Houston at 214. Grugier-Hill is the better athlete, as he posted some notable pro day numbers, including a 4.45-second 40 and a 6.89-second 3-cone drill. He impressed onlookers in spring camps, but when it came time to winnow down the roster, New England cut Grugier-Hill and held on to Roberts. This week, Roberts got to show off the kind of instincts and strength that earned him a nation-best 88 solo tackles last season. The rookie notched seven stops at Cleveland, leading the team.

Perhaps his best play came with 6:03 left in the first half. With the Browns backed up against their own end zone and looking to give themselves some space, Roberts used his none-too-tortoise-like 4.60-40 speed to power toward the ballcarrier. On the way, he caught tackle Joe Thomas under the shoulder pads and took the perennial Pro-Bowler to the Magic Pan, while somehow making the tackle on Crowell for no gain. (You can see a clip of the play here.)  Roberts flexes his biceps after the play, and, as much as I dislike showing off, we all should feel fine about that.

Ghost Right-er: So, we’re not worried about Stephen Gostkowski missing to the right on a few kicks, are we? We’re not concerned that will come back at some grossly inopportune time and bite the team again?

No? Okay, good.

Nope, me neither. Hadn’t even crossed my mind.

We’re On To Cincinnati: There we go. Though now at 2-3, the Bengals are not to be overlooked, as their losses have come against the Steelers, Broncos, and a very peppy Cowboys club. Should be fun to watch.

Random Observations

Outside The Lines: I’m not here to rant against sideline reporters. They’re fine. Still, I have to admit, watching last Sunday’s game in Cleveland, right after Jamie Erdahl got through her pre-game bit on Brady, I realized I hadn’t paid attention to a single word. Something about playing catch, maybe? Who knows?

Also, if she’s at the game, what the heck is former kicker Jay Feely doing there? Two sideline reporters? That’s like having two appendixes. But, no, there’s Jay Feely, telling us what Brady was up to over his “break.” Family. Check. Just not sure of the usefulness. Plus, with his comically large necktie knots, Feely looks like an extra on Bugsy Malone.

So, yeah, fine: be the sideline reporter. Just let me ignore you.

Pretty In Pink: When considering whether or not to buy pink NFL gear to support breast cancer awareness, please keep some numbers in mind. On its website, the NFL boasts that,

Since 2009, the first year of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign, the NFL’s work has raised nearly $15 million for the American Cancer Society, with the majority of the contributions coming from the sale of Breast Cancer Awareness-identified pink merchandise at retail and via the NFL Auction website.

Now, that’s great. It’s wonderful that $15 million has gone toward the ACS. But, the campaign has been happening for seven years now, which averages out to $2.14 million per year. Again, not too shabby, but remember that a) the league made $7.2 billion in 2014, which meant $226.4 million per team, and b) the NFL spent $12.5 million to prosecute the Deflategate case. If they wanted to spend more to support the ACS, they certainly could, but – just as they do with military veterans – the NFL uses righteous causes as PR fodder.

Sometimes they can’t even do that right, as evidenced by last season’s kerfluffle when Steeler running back DeAngelo Williams was denied permission to wear pink gear throughout the season to honor his mother, who died of breast cancer in May of 2014. Williams ended up dyeing the tips of his hair pink. The NFL said they could not make an exception to the uniform policy.

What? Of course they could. Here’s an example of how:

Hey, players, listen up. If you want to wear pink gear throughout the season to honor a loved one, please email me and let me know whom you’re doing it for. We will keep a list on our website to further promote breast cancer awareness. Thank you for supporting the program that we started.

Roger “Media-Friendly-And-Decent-Human” Goodell 

Never forget: the NFL is a business. They don’t care about you beyond your wallet and what’s in it. Please consider donating directly to the ACS by clicking here.

Pryor Engagement: With the realization that Bill Belichick had some interest in drafting Ohio State QB/Browns WR Terrelle Pryor (thank you, Mike Reiss),  it’s always compelling to wonder what a great athlete could accomplish with a better team around him. Pryor has caught 24 passes this season for 338 yards and one TD. He has also rushed for 18 yards and passed for 40. Those 24 receptions have come after being targeted 45 times this year, which is a pretty rough ratio.

Not that New England is desperate for receivers, but it’s an intriguing “what if?”

You Should Have Seen The ’80s: Ah, shoulder pads. Watching Cleveland quarterback Cody Kessler get knocked down by Dont’a Hightower looked like a frame-by-frame homage to New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso, and it got me thinking. Why can’t someone figure out a way to protect a ball carrier’s shoulders? Think about flopping onto your side from a kneeling position. That would hurt your shoulder, right? I mean, maybe not injure it, but you’d feel it. Now imagine falling onto your shoulder from a standing position. Now, add a 250-pound linebacker driving your shoulder into the ground. Yeesh.

Is it possible to run a rod or slat of hard material through the back of the shoulder pads and attach it to the shoulder flap – something that could break the fall and take the stress off the shoulder if need be? Maybe, if the player wanted to raise his arms, it could be attached by an elastic that would bring it back into place when the arm went down? I dunno. Just spitballing. Seems like a recurring injury – the kind where we know exactly what happened the second it happened – should get a closer look in terms of prevention.

No, Really, What Can Brown Do For You? I know they’re called the Browns, but do they have to wear that abysmal color? For a brief period in the early ’90s, Brown University experimented with red and black uniforms, which are the colors of the school’s seal.   Cleveland could go with the colors of any of various Brown family crests, none of which seems to feature the color brown prominently. Seriously, brown denotes rust and rot, among other things. Adding bright orange doesn’t help. At best, Cleveland’s football team could be an advertisement for Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Lions aren’t really blue. I’ve never seen a purple raven. So, Browns, consider keeping the name and ditching the color.

(Very proud of myself for not referring to Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, as in, “Looking For A New Hue.” So I guess now I’m not so proud of myself.)

Whitehurst, Right Now, There Is No Other Place I Want To Be: Sure, we can all sit back on our couches and make fun of Charlie Whitehurst, aka “Clipboard Jesus.” Thin on QBs after Kessler’s injury, the Browns gave Whitehurst the reins and watched him do as well as expected, completing 14 of 24 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Whitehurst banged up his knee Sunday and was cut by the Browns on Tuesday. He’s been in the league for 11 years. He’s played for five different teams (Browns, Colts, Titans, Seahawks, and Chargers, twice). He has sat through seven seasons where he threw as many NFL passes as I did (which, coincidentally, is the same number of Olympic gold medals I’ve won, or times I’ve climbed Mt. Everest).

But here’s the thing about Charlie Whitehurst: he’s 34 years old. These days he gets a base salary of about $950,000 a year. He has never played in more than seven games in a season (Titans, 2014), and he should be able to literally walk away from the league in good health. As I said, we can all sit back and laugh at Whitehurst all we want; in the end, I have to imagine he’ll have a few chuckles saved up for himself.

For The Last Time, What Can Brown Do For You? The Patriots’ website posted a video of Belichick bringing the team to the statue of NFL great Jim Brown. Once at the base of the statue, Belichick calls Brown the greatest player that ever played, and goes on to call him a great person. I can’t be the only one who flinched. While Brown may well be the greatest player ever, and he has in many cases acted as a “great ambassador” (Belichick’s words), he has also compiled a disturbing police record of domestic abuse.

On The Big Lead website this past February, Stephen Douglas recounted the numerous occasions that Brown has been implicated in domestic violence incidents. They began in 1965 and occurred at least once each decade until 2000, when Brown went to jail rather than serve probation and attend a domestic violence counseling program. Now that he’s 80 years old, I have to hope that he’s slowed down and left these problems in the past. But let’s not go overboard praising him as a person, at least without mentioning some of his troubles.

Sox 2BU: Well, that certainly wasn’t the way I wanted David Ortiz’s last game to go. If anything, the 2016 Red Sox remind us of how stunning the 2013 Sox were. That team won it all with a .211 World Series batting average, and that included Ortiz’s Zeus-like .688 BA. Mike Napoli batted just .154, but he had four World Series RBIs. Jonny Gomes batted a mere .118 (!), but he had three RBIs. Hell, Mike Carp batted .000 (0 for 2) and still managed to push a run across the plate (a forceout at second got Xander Bogaerts home). It’s not average, it’s timing, and this year’s club lacked it.

Hunh. Seems like a bummer to end on that note. Hmmm…

Pumpkin Peeve Of The Week: Pumpkin Spice Sweet Potato Chips. Suck it, Whole Foods.

Chris Warner can be reached via email ( or Twitter @cwarn89 

Patriots Training Camp Topics

Well, Tom Brady got suspended, so the world is safe from skullduggery. Pay no mind to former NFL players dragging their broken bodies and brains toward early deaths. The commissioner has sussed out and faced down the real issue facing the NFL in 2016: proper ball inflation.

Now that the Commissioner, who reminds us of Owen Wilson in a perpetual state of wonder,  has made football safe, it’s time to get back to training camp.

Here are five topics we’re mulling over this week.

The Redshirt Class: The Patriots had lots of injuries last year, with the rookie class in particular getting hit hard with ailments. Tight end A. J. Derby, cornerback Darryl Roberts, and defensive end Trey Flowers all took an early path to the IR in 2015. Roberts was a starter in the one preseason game he played before injuring his wrist, while Flowers showed some pass-rushing ability in the same game, getting to Aaron Rodgers more decisively than a stupid comment. Derby got hurt in early August, making his potential intriguing after a year of settling in with his new team.

One Guy To Watch: Derby, for the reason listed above. The former QB with solid quickness would fit as a pass-catching tight end, giving some competition to Clay Harbor. Now that I’ve written this, I just hope he doesn’t get cut tomorrow.

The Backup Offensive Tackles: Rather telling that, as of Tuesday afternoon, only Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are listed as tackles on the roster page. The rest carry the more vague title of offensive lineman, which an optimist would say means the remaining players have flexibility. But we ran out of optimism after Solder got hurt last year.

Seeing how last year Cameron Fleming got run around like a maypole and Marcus Cannon showed the foot speed of a dog on his hind legs, New England might have some trouble in this area, especially given the wear-and-tear on Solder (recovering from injury) and Vollmer (32 years old). LaAdrian Waddle has some experience but didn’t get to show much last year due to injury. Rookie Joe Thuney did a great job at left tackle in college but has been tagged as an interior lineman.

One Guy To Watch: Looking for another great achievement from head alchemist Coach Dante Scarnecchia here, let’s keep an eye on Keavon Milton, third-year man out of Louisiana-Monroe (Go Warhawks!). Milton measures 6-4, 320 pounds. He played tight end in college, much like Solder . He’s fast and athletic for his size, so he could surprise some people. I mean, a big, big surprise, but still. (Note: Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit had a piece on Milton Tuesday, which I of course noticed midway through writing this paragraph).

The Backup Inside Linebacker: This one’s a tough call for the best of reasons; namely, the starting inside linebackers for New England, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, make up one of the best tandems in the NFL. Free agent Jonathan Freeny came in and did decently, but had trouble holding up against the run. Like Freeny, Ramon Humber and Kevin Snyder register as special teamers more than positional backups. Free agent Shea McClellin has experience in the middle, but he will probably stick outside. Rookie Elandon Roberts, at 6-0, 235 pounds, looks like another special teams guy, as we said in our 2016 Draft Review.

One Guy To Watch: Roberts, largely due to his productivity in college, and also because of the Patriots’ diligence in getting bigger bodies onto the defensive front. Such bulk on the line might keep OLs off of a player like Roberts. The sixth-rounder ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, the kind of speed that helped him tally 142 total tackles last fall, leading the nation with 88 unassisted stops.

The Return Man: The Patriots had some problems with punt returns last year, as Chris Harper, Keshawn Martin, and Danny Amendola all muffed kicks. Due to Amendola’s and Julian Edelman’s importance to the offense, both have seen their reps in the PR role limited.

One Guy To Watch: It has to be Cyrus Jones, right? The Pats’ premier pick averaged 12.6 yards per punt return last fall, escorting four home to meet his parents.* (You can see his work vs. Michigan State here.) As Amendola showed in the past, getting a chance to return the football can boost a part-time player’s confidence and get him into the flow of a game. Could be a boon for the rookie.

*And the search for the perfect return TD catchphrase goes on.

The Big Backup Back: New England has eight running backs in camp this week, not including fullback James Develin. It looks like LeGarrette Blount (250 pounds) projects as the top big guy, with Brandon Bolden (220) a steady backup and core special teamer. While fans appreciated the fill-in work of 245-pound Joey Iosefa (search for “Iosefa truck” and you’ll find this clip vs. the Titans), he doesn’t seem like a long-term solution. Tyler Gaffney weighs in at 220, but he’s had a hard time staying on the field.

One Guy To Watch: I’m not sure we’ve met New England’s backup bulldozer yet. Whether it’s Iosefa, Heath Evans, Mike Cloud, or Jonas Gray, the Patriots have a history of finding players to fill in as temporary Class 2 Vehicles. Rather than stick with Iosefa or hope Gaffney stays healthy, the Patriots could watch the waver wire and bring in a tough runner to round out special teams and see if he’s a fit for the fall.

Thoughts on the upcoming season? Relief that the scoundrel Brady will no longer have the opportunity to commit scientifically disproven violations on footballs? Please let us know in the comments below.

Chris Warner tweets like he’s the funniest guy in the room, a perk of doing so alone: @cwarn89

2016 Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em, Part I

Every year, hundreds of NFL draft hopefuls get invited to the league’s combine for testing and interviews. Every year, hundreds more are forced to show what they can do at their college pro days.

Every year, we keep track of the best pro day performances and compare them to what the combine invitees had to offer. (Here’s a link to last year’s Combine Snubs, Part II.) You can compare the numbers at the bottom of this column.

Thanks as always to scout Gil Brandt and his indispensable pro day page on Now, organized by position (somewhat), here are some pro day workouts of note for 2016.


Time To Say Good Vi: If New England wants to add strength in the middle of their offensive line, they could take a look at Arizona State guard Vi Teofilo. The 6-3, 320-pounder put up 43 bench reps at ASU’s pro day, which would have been the top number at the combine this year by a wide margin. Coincidentally, the combine best of 34 was submitted by Teofilo’s line mate Christian Westerman. An All Pac-12 Honorable Mention his senior year, Teofilo started 40 straight games at right guard.

Trojan Man: Solid pro day for Troy running back Brandon Burks. Despite a pedestrian 4.56 40, the 5-9, 208-pounder ran a 6.88-second 3-cone that would have been the third-best time for combine running backs. Burk’s 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle would have been the second-fastest time for the position. His 24 bench press reps would have tied for fifth, though pound-for-pound he’d have been the strongest back. Burks led Troy with 1,005 yards rushing (5.0 avg) and seven touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 304 yards (10.5 avg) and two TDs.

And Miles To Go Before He Sleeps: For such a small guy, Northwestern receiver Miles Shuler made a big impression. Measuring just under 5-foot-10 and 173 pounds (smaller than some O-linemen’s buffet dinners), Shuler ran a 4.4-second 40 that would have placed in the top five for combine receivers; plus, his 4.1-second 20-yard dash would have made top four, and his 6.78-second 3-cone would have been in the top seven for pass-catchers. Shuler only caught 13 passes last year and ran the ball twice (for 30 yards). His main contributions came in the return game, where he averaged 23.3 yards per kick return and 10 yards per punt return.

Fun Fact: Shuler transferred to Northwestern after playing at Rutgers for two seasons. Scarlet Knight Alert!

Will The Wolf Survive? Time to check out a member of Los Lobos, i.e., New Mexico running back Jhurell Pressley (5-10, 206). Pressley’s best 40 time came in 4.38 seconds, which would have made top two for combine running backs, top eight overall. Pressley also managed a 4.06-second 20-yard shuttle that would have led all backs at the combine. His 6.92 3-cone would have come in third among RBs, while his 25 bench reps would have tied for fourth. In 2015, Pressley averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his way to 907 on the season, scoring 11 touchdowns. His junior year, he gained 1,083 yards and averaged 9.5 per carry.

Dom Cougar Mellow Camp: Because he could make Tom Brady calmer this spring, maybe? Dominique “Dom” Williams (6-3, 198), Washington State receiver, ran a 4.39-second 40 at his pro day, which would have tied for second-best among combine receivers. His 40.5-inch vertical would have tied for third among pass-catchers. The lanky Cougar earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2015, totaling 75 catches for 1,040 yards (13.9 avg.) and 11 TDs.

Berger Shakes And Flies: Looks like receiver Justin Berger out of Wyoming used his pro day to his advantage, ranking in the top ten for combine wide receivers in almost all of his events. Berger had a 4.45-second 40 (top five overall) and a 6.87-second 3-cone drill (top 10). The 6-1, 204-pounder put up 20 reps in the bench press, which would have tied him with the strongest wide receivers in Indianapolis. This Cowboy looks like he needs to rustle up some experience: he had only two receptions last year and totaled just seven catches in his Wyoming career.

Feeling Fuller: Wide receiver Devin Fuller (6-0, 194) wowed scouts at UCLA with a 4.39-second 40 that would have tied for top eight overall at the combine, top two for receivers. His 10-foot-4 broad jump would have been twelfth among combine receivers, while his 36-inch vertical would have come in ninth. His 7.1-second 3-cone didn’t showcase amazing quickness, yet Fuller made his biggest impact on Bruins special teams, averaging 11.8 yards per punt return and 24.2 per kickoff return. He also caught 24 passes for 259 yards (10.8 avg.) and three touchdowns.

The Family Jules? Could Ferris State’s Jason Vander Laan become another former QB to work his magic for the Patriots, a lá Julian Edelman? Nick Caserio reportedly worked him out at Northwestern’s pro day. According to Peter J. Wallner of Michigan Live (, Vander Laan measured 6-4, 240 pounds and ran a 4.75-second 40, top seven for combine tight ends. Even better from a Pats perspective, his 6.73-second 3-cone would have bested all tight ends at the combine.

We’ve got to start a new paragraph here to talk about what Vander Laan did at Ferris State. He received the Harlan Hill Trophy (Division II Player of the Year) for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He holds the NCAA record for most career rushing yards by a QB in every division, and he’s the first quarterback in NCAA history with 1,000+ passing yards and 1,000+ rushing yards in four consecutive seasons. Last year, Vander Laan threw for 2,626 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1,542 yards and 24 TDs.

A Scheu In? In what has been called a down year for tight ends, Vanderbilt’s Steven Scheu (6-5, 253) probably did himself some good at the Commodore’s pro day. His best 40 was in 4.70 seconds, which would have placed second for combine tight ends. His 23 bench presses would have also come in second (tie), while all of his other event numbers would have made top ten for his position. At Vandy, Scheu was the second-leading receiver with 26 catches for 231 yards and one touchdown, which probably tells you all you need to know about their passing attack. He was named the team’s top scholar athlete of the year.

A Tight End, B’Gosh: Wisconsin-Oshkosh tight end Joe Sommers worked out at Wisconsin’s pro day and did well for himself. The smaller, “move” end (6-3, 241) had a 4.64-second 40 that would have tied Jerrell Adams for best tight end at the combine. A 36-inch vertical (second for tight ends) and 6.91-second 3-cone (third) didn’t hurt him, either. Sommers had 25 catches last year for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Not exactly awe-inspiring, but a quick look at his highlight reel shows a hard-blocking prospect with notable field awareness.


Pierce Pressure: Time to take a closer look at Michael Pierce out of Samford. The defensive tackle ran a 4.98-second 40, remarkable for a human wall safe (6-1, 329 pounds). He also notched a 9-foot-7 broad jump, a 27-inch vertical, and a solid 28 bench reps. Believe it or not, Pierce’s numbers actually compare to Vince Wilfork’s pro day from 2004 (he had chosen to skip the combine). Big Vince ran a 5.08 40, jumped 8-foot-5 in the broad jump, and leapt 26.5 inches. The big difference? Wilfork’s 36 bench reps. (And, of course, a celebrated 11 seasons in Foxboro.)

Pierce totaled 48 tackles last year, including nine for loss with 2.5 sacks. He also had four QB hits. Pierce transferred to Samford after two years at Tulane, where he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. The Green Wave changed coaches Pierce’s sophomore year, which could partly explain his switch.

Good Times Never Felt So Good: Looks like we have another one of the Commodores, so let’s Sail On. Vanderbilt strong safety Andrew Williamson (6-1, 208) had himself a heck of a pro day, running a 4.48 40 that would have been the third fastest among combine safeties. Williamson’s 6.81 seconds would have been the second-best 3-cone time for the position. His 10-foot-4 broad jump would’ve tied for top five for safeties. Last season, Williamson had 41 total tackles (28 solo), with one sack, four pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

Have A Good Davie: Cornerback Daniel Davie out of Nebraska ran a 4.37-second 40 at his pro day, top three for combine corners, top six overall. A good-sized DB at 6-1, 190, Davie also completed the 3-cone drill in a quick 6.85 seconds, which would have tied for top five for corners at the combine. He also tied the fourth-best cornerbacks in both the vertical jump (39 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-7). Because of injuries his senior year, Davie played in only six games, totaling 18 tackles (17 solo) and five pass break-ups. As a junior, Davie started all 13 games. That led to 41 tackles (six for loss), two interceptions, and five pass break-ups. He played special teams his first two seasons.

Stand Up And Be Countess: Seeing as Bill Belichick himself made it to Auburn’s pro day, we have to assume he noticed cornerback Blake Countess (5-10, 184). After doing just fine in the 40 (4.48), the vertical jump (36.5 inches), and the broad jump (10-foot-1) with scores that would have made the top 15 for combine CBs, Countess submitted a woulda-been-top-five-for-corners 6.85-second 3-cone, along with 21 bench reps that would have been a combine-best among cornerbacks. The versatile DB actually wrapped up his career at Auburn as a safety this past season, with 71 tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and a blocked kick. He started for three years (30 games) for Michigan at corner. In 2014, he racked up 24 tackles and three pass break-ups.

Third Degree Burns: We have to assume defensive back/returner Morgan Burns got a lot of questions at Kansas State’s pro day, especially after submitting a 4.38-second 40-yard dash that would have placed him fifth for combine CBs. The 5-10, 200-pounder also ran a 6.6-second 3-cone, which would have been top five at the combine overall. An All-Big 12 Honorable Mention at defensive back, Burns tallied 38 tackles, one interception, and 10 pass break-ups, along with a forced fumble and a blocked kick. Oh, hey, I guess we buried the lede: the All-American kick returner brought back four kickoffs for touchdowns in 2015, averaging 33.5 yards per return. He also recovered a blocked punt for a TD vs. Kansas.

So, special teams, you thinking? Because I’m thinking special teams.

Watch Burgess Merit It: Is he gonna eat lightning and crap thunder? James Burgess, Louisville linebacker, has the size of a strong safety at 5-11, 227 pounds, but his play at linebacker demonstrates his toughness. He measured up well against combine safeties, with a 4.61 40 that would have tied for seventh at the position, and a 7.06 3-cone that would have tied for sixth. His 21 bench press is second-best for safeties. The Atlantic Coast Conference Third Team linebacker had 92 tackles (9.5 for loss) and an interception last year, along with four pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries.

Duck, Duck, Loose: Oregon linebacker Joe Walker (6-2, 236) broke out at his pro day, coming up with numbers that would have stood up against combine linebackers. His 4.56-second 40 would have been third best for LBs, while his 6.81-second 3-cone would have come in second for the position. A 37.5-inch vertical (tied, third) and 10-4 broad jump (tied, fourth) both would have made top five for combine linebackers. Patrolling the middle, Walker led the Ducks in 2015 with 87 total tackles, including six for loss (two sacks). He also had an interception and two fumble recoveries.

Running Into A Brick Wallace: Kudos to linebacker Aaron Wallace out of UCLA for a notable pro day. His 10-foot-10 broad jump would have tied for eighth overall at the combine, second for linebackers. His 4.57-second 40 would have placed third among combine LBs, while his 36-inch vertical would have come in fourth and his 4.27-second 20-yard shuttle would have come in sixth for the position. What else, what else? Oh, yeah: 25 bench reps, good enough for third-place as an LB. For the Bruins, the 6-3, 240-pounder made All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention with 65 total tackles, including 12.5 for loss (seven sacks).

Give Me The Knight: Linebacker Quentin Gause out of Rutgers may not have gotten a combine invite, but the Patriots still have him on their radar as both a Rutgers Guy and a Special Teams Guy. Gause showed off his hard work prepping for his pro day. The 6-foot, 232 pound linebacker had 23 bench reps (third for combine linebackers), a 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle (third), a 7.00-second 3-cone (fourth) and a 36-inch vertical (fifth). An All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year, Gause had 96 tackles (12 for loss, one sack), and two pass break-ups.

COMBINE BESTS (With Pro-Day Comparables)


4.31 seconds – Keith Marshall, Georgia RB

4.37 seconds – Daniel Davie, Nebraska CB

BENCH PRESS (225 pounds)

43 reps – Vi Teofilo, Arizona State OL

34 reps – Christian Westerman, Arizona State OL


41.5 inches – Daniel Lasco, California RB 

40.5 inches – Dominique Williams, Washington State WR


11 feet, 3 inches – Daniel Lasco, California RB


6.49 seconds – Devon Cajuste, Stanford WR

6.6 seconds – Morgan Burns, Kansas State CB 


3.85 seconds – Justin Simmons, Boston College FS

4.06 seconds – Jhurrell Presley, New Mexico RB

More snubs to come as pro day numbers come in.

Please let us know if we’ve missed any noteworthy pro day performances. Use the comment section below, or tweet Chris Warner @cwarn89

Patriots’ “That Guy” 2016 NFL Combine Edition

Welcome to the second part in our ongoing 2016 Patriots pre-draft series. In our first “That Guy” column of the year, we reviewed the Senior Bowl (as well as the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL Players’ Association Bowl) in search of candidates who fit New England’s draft profiles.

Now, after the NFL combine, we have some numbers to go by, which adds to our list of categories. For a comprehensive look at all of Bill Belichick’s draft choices since 2000, please see our Round-By-Round Review from earlier this year.

We don’t say this often, but good job, NFL. The league has put together a solid web page for combine news, including a review of what each workout entails.

Without further ado, we present the Patriots’ “That Guy” rundown, version 2.0.

The 3-Cone Guy: New England’s love of 3-cone prowess has been well-documented (we see you, Chris Price). Defensive back Darryl Roberts fit this pick last year after a 6.66-second 3-cone drill at Marshall’s pro day. Another seventh-rounder by the name of Julian Edelman ran a 6.62 in 2009. This year, Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste depicted his quicks, finishing the 3-cone in 6.49 seconds. Here’s a bigger surprise: Cajuste is 6-4, 234 pounds. While he slinked around the cones faster than an over-caffeinated ferret through a drain pipe, will Cajuste’s pedestrian 4.62 40 time give the Patriots pause? Is his 36-inch vertical combined with his height enough to make him a viable red-zone target? Interesting to see if New England would want to fit Cajuste into their offense, and how they’d do it.

Fun fact: neither Roberts nor Edelman was invited to the combine, which reminds us to ask you to watch out for our annual Combine Snubs series. Maybe New England’s seventh-round 3-cone contender is working out as you read this.

Quickly, one would assume.

The Freakishly Athletic Guy: In 2013, Southern Mississippi pass-rusher Jamie Collins blew away scouts at the combine with a 4.64 40-yard dash, a 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 11-foot, seven-inch broad jump. The Pats drafted the 6-3, 250-pounder and made him into one of the most dynamic defenders on the team.

Though we couldn’t find anyone at the 2016 combine with size and athleticism to match Collins (and we’ll bet few, if any, can do eight consecutive backflips), free safety Justin Simmons of Boston College impressed in most events. While BC’s 2015 offense provided about as much momentum as a cement block in a mud puddle, their defense did excellent work, and Simmons played a big part in that. At the combine, the 6-2, 202-pounder leapt 40 inches vertically and 10.5 feet broadly, and also submitted a 6.58-second 3-cone drill (second best to Cajuste). His 4.61-second 40 didn’t blow the doors off, but was good enough for top seven among safeties (for comparison, 2013 pick Logan Ryan ran a 4.56).

Last season, Simmons totaled 67 tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He played most of his career at safety but did fill in at corner on occasion due to injuries.

The Small School Defender: The Patriots like to plumb the depths of the lower divisions in the later rounds, coming up with Zach Moore out of Concordia (2014) and Markell Carter from Central Arkansas (2011). This year, there’s a lot to like about defensive end Matt Judon out of Division II Grand Valley State. At 6-3, 275 pounds, Judon ran a 4.73-second 40, benched 225 pounds 30 times, and jumped up 35 inches, all top five for combine defensive linemen.

As one would expect, Judon rampaged through the Greater Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference like Grendel through a Danish village. Of his 81 total tackles, 23.5 went for a loss, including – seriously – 20 sacks. He added three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. For an entertaining look at Judon’s 2015 GLIAC Demolition Tour, see his highlights here.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: Picking up Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason last year bulked up the interior O-line. Maybe some focus on the exterior this spring, as both Sebastian Vollmer (over 30) and Nate Solder (torn bicep last October) have taken their share of lumps. Looks like Joe Haeg of North Dakota State is getting some attention as a New England tackle candidate. Though he played in a lower division, the Pats aren’t shy about picking FCS alums, especially from a program that has won a ridiculous five national championships in a row. Neither are the Patriots shy about legacies, and they’ll take a look at Brandon Shell of South Carolina, whom NESN’s Doug Kyed confirmed the Patriots talked to in Indianapolis. Shell is the nephew of former Raiders O-lineman/mauler Art Shell. Bet Bill Belichick has some stories.

At the combine, Haeg (6-6, 304) had a fast 40 (5.16 seconds) and quick feet for a lineman (7.47-second 3-cone). An All-American for the past two years, Haeg split his time between right and left tackle (ah, versatility remains a beautiful thing), starting 60 of 61 games while at NDSU. Shell, meanwhile, ran a respectable 5.22 seconds and delivered an impressive 9-foot, 4-inch broad jump – not bad for a 6-5, 324-pounder. Built with almost 35-inch arms that would give Laocoön nightmares, Shell started at right tackle through his junior year, switching to the left side as a senior. He also made the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2014. Which is probably pretty good, right?

Speaking of the SEC…

The Alabama Guy: The Belichick-Nick Saban connection has been well-established. Last year, linebacker Xzavier Dickson filled the ‘Bama quota. Of course, Dont’a Hightower got taken in the first round in 2012. D-lineman Brandon Deaderick made the team as a rookie in 2010.

Finding a Crimson Tide defender at the combine who isn’t going to get picked before the late second round is like finding a one-piece bathing suit in Sports Illustrated – it probably exists, but you’ve really got to care. Despite a positive showing at the Senior Bowl, defensive back Cyrus Jones could still be available on Day Three. Jones (5-10, 196) ran a decent combine 40 (4.49 seconds), but has value as someone familiar with the Patriots’ defense under Saban. In 2015, Jones notched 37 tackles (including four for loss), seven pass break-ups, and two interceptions. As a punt returner, Jones averaged 12.6 yards and scored four touchdowns last fall. That’s right: four. In fact, here’s one now.

The Rutgers Guy: A quick look at the defensive backfield shows Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon, all Rutgers alums. In free agency, the Pats added linebackers Jonathan Freeny and Kevin Snyder. Belichick just seems to have confidence in those guys, and they tend to live up to those expectations.

Of the two Scarlet Knights invited to the combine, outside linebacker Steve Longa fits here – and could also fit the “Special Teams Guy” category. (It helped that he participated in the events, as receiver Leonte Carroo played it safe with an ankle injury.) Longa (6-1, 241) had some decent numbers (4.78-second 40, 32-inch vertical) and some not-as-good ones (19 bench reps, 7.5-second 3-cone), but after putting up three 100-plus tackle seasons in a row by the banks of the Raritan, it’s easy to see why he declared early for the draft.

This past fall, Longa led the team with 117 tackles, including two sacks. He also broke up two passes and forced two fumbles on his way to 2015 Rutgers Defensive MVP and All-Big Ten Third Team honors (media vote).

The Ohio State Guy: While the influence  of current OSU (and former Florida) coach Urban Meyer has waned due to the inefficacy of most Pats picks from UF (“inefficacy” a super-nice term for “disastrous” and “soul-breaking”), the addition of defensive coordinator (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano should rekindle interest in Meyer’s charges.

Seeing as Belichick collects safeties as if they were American Girl Dolls (and you’re welcome for that creepy image), free safety Tyvis Powell provides a lot to like. He has tremendous size (6-3, 211), solid strength (15 bench reps) and fluid speed (4.46 40). Powell had 71 tackles last year (third on the team), along with three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick. Of his eight career interceptions, two came in bowl games (one each vs. Alabama and Notre Dame).

The Injured Guy: New England often seems to take a chance on a player who missed time in college. It’s risky, but any policy that can land Rob Gronkowski seems worth it. Gronk had neck problems his junior year at Arizona, didn’t play the season, and skipped the combine. That pushed him to the second round.

This year’s combine-skipper extraordinaire looks like defensive lineman Adam Gotsis out of Georgia Tech. Gotsis banged up his knee vs. Virginia last October and missed the rest of the season, but managed 31 tackles in nine games, including five for loss. The 6-4, 287 stalwart remains a solid prospect to back up the D-line. An Australian native, Gotsis spent his youth playing Australian Rules football. He made the switch in high school and, in 2012, was selected to the IFAF World Team roster for the International Bowl in Austin, Texas. That team actually beat the USA, 35-29.

The Day Two Running Back: In 2011, New England selected Shane Vereen in Round Two and Stevan Ridley in Round Three. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss has noted that it seems time for the Patriots to address the running back position in the draft; we don’t think there will be a double-dip in ball carriers in 2016, but we see his point.

New England doesn’t seem all that concerned about 40 times, especially for running backs. At the 2011 combine, Ridley ran a 4.73-second 40, stalactitic for a running back. On the other hand, his 6.78-second 3-cone was remarkable for a 225-pounder. This brings us to Daniel Lasco out of Cal, who had a notable East-West Shrine Game performance (62 yards on six carries). Lasco’s on the svelter side (6-0, 209), with decent speed (4.46 40) and an only okay 3-cone (7.22 seconds); however, he crushed a 41.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot-3 broad jump. Those leaps tied him for first overall in each combine event, making him an intriguing prospect.

At Cal, Lasco fought some ankle issues in 2015 but did rush for 5.1 yards per carry (65 for 351) and three touchdowns. When healthy as a junior, he gained 1,115 yards rushing (5.3 avg), scored 12 touchdowns, and caught 33 passes for 356 yards and two TDs.

The Backup Tight End: Belichick has selected plenty of tight ends in the past 16 drafts. In 2015, A. J. Derby came along in the sixth round but ended up on injured reserve by August. After trading Michael Hoomanawanui and failing to get the most out of Scott Chandler last year, this position could get a wholesale makeover for anyone not named Gronk.

We liked Jerrell Adams (6-5, 247) out of South Carolina before the combine when he showed a strong desire to block and solid hands at the Senior Bowl. His workouts might help his status, as he ran a 4.64 40 (best for all combine tight ends) and a 7.05-second 3-cone, while submitting a 32.5-inch vertical (top seven for both events among TEs). Adams caught 28 passes last year in an offense that wasn’t exactly the rebirth of the Houston Oilers, so it would prove worth watching to see what he could do in Foxboro.

The Special Teams Guy: When the Patriots drafted Matthew Slater in the fifth round in 2008, most of us thought they were looking for another receiver. Nope. Slater has always been a special teamer first and foremost. Nate Ebner, who plays safety occasionally, got the call in 2012 in the sixth round. Despite getting some undrafted gems in Brandon Bolden (2012) and Brandon King (2015), New England consistently bolsters their special teams depth via the draft.

Hard to miss Travis Feeney out of Washington. A gangly Gus at 6-4, 230 pounds, Feeney bested all linebackers with a 40-inch vertical and got the second-fastest 40 time for the position at 4.50 seconds. His 7.22-second 3-cone was good enough for top 15 for LBs. Feeney, a team captain in 2015, was voted the Huskies’ Most Outstanding Defensive Player with eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. He also forced three fumbles and swatted two passes.

I mean, 6-foot-4 with a 40-inch vertical? He’s got to at least try to block an NFL kick or two, right?

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Interesting to note that the Patriots have never drafted a first-round receiver under Belichick. For second-rounders, they’ve picked Deion Branch (2002), Bethel Johnson (2003), Chad Jackson (2006), and Aaron Dobson (2013). That’s a long time since striking pay dirt, so we figure they’ll address other areas early, then take a chance on a mid-round guy.

Keep an eye out for Jordan Peyton out of UCLA, who has a lot of athletic traits the Patriots seem to covet. He’s a little bigger than their typical crew (6-1, 207), has some speed (4.47 40) and a solid broad jump (10 feet, one inch). Actually, that broad jump measurement and his 20-yard shuttle (4.33 seconds) match Dobson’s perfectly. Dobson was faster (4.37 40) and did a little better on the vertical jump (35 inches to Peyton’s 34.5). Hmm. Maybe Dobson deserves another –

No, Chris. Don’t do it. Don’t delude yourself into the Annual Dobson Redemption Tour. It’s over, man.

Anyway, Peyton increased his production every year at UCLA, culminating in a 78-catch, 1,105-yard, five touchdown senior campaign. He’s an avid blocker with solid hands. Also carries the characteristic of most Patriots receiver picks in that he’s relatively uninspiring. You know what I mean? Not dynamic, not a potential game-changer. Just … fine. (Now, if you’re saying you knew what Edelman would become, stop it.)

That said, the last wideout pick who got me excited was Jackson, whose level of football athleticism turned out to be inversely proportional to his on-field intelligence. New England and receivers, man. Who knows?

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy: Edelman led the trend here in 2009, but Jeremy Ebert out of Northwestern (2012) and Jeremy Gallon out of Michigan (2014) also got the call in the seventh round. New England could use a youngster to give Danny Amendola a breather and bring a little more dynamism than Keyshawn Martin.

Arizona State’s D. J. Foster (5-10, 193) has an intriguing history with the Sun Devils, converting to wide receiver as a senior after spending the previous three years at running back. His disappointing 4.57-second 40 could keep him lower on draft boards, while his quicksilver 6.75 3-cone should make him a natural for the slot. Last year, Foster didn’t forget how to run the ball, rushing for 296 yards (5.1 avg). As a receiver, he hauled in 59 passes for 584 yards and 3 TDs.

The Navy Guy: Very surprised to see that Navy QB Keenan Reynolds was not invited to the NFL combine, especially considering that, last year, current Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona made the trip. Ah, well. We’ll have more on the Division One record-holder for rushing touchdowns by a QB (88) in our next “That Guy” column.

Chris Warner is interested to see how long it will take before the comment section below gets hijacked. Also, Twitter: @cwarn89 

Round-By-Round Review, Pats Draft 2016

Here’s our annual check-in on New England’s draft status this century. While many sites break down team drafts by year, we take a closer look at how the Patriots have done in each round. The basic verdict? Great early, solid late, with some ups and downs in-between. About what you’d hope for as a fan.

Judging players as either successes or not with no in-between might start some arguments. Keeping it simple seemed key: more “did they get a first down?” than “is this a catch?” So, if a player contributed and/or remains on the roster, he has shown success.

We like this method because trying to weigh picks by round could get messy. For example, safety Tavon Wilson (2011) has remained on the team as a special-teamer and occasional sub package defender – not exactly satisfying what fans look for in a second-round pick. On the other hand, Julian Edelman (2009) has become one of the most prolific receivers and punt returners in franchise history – an absolute jackpot for a seventh-rounder. The level of success through an entire roster tends to even itself out over the years.

As of right now, Coach Belichick has six picks in the 2015 draft, including the second, third, fourth, sixth, and seventh (two). They could also get a potential third-round compensatory pick from letting free agent Darrelle Revis walk, as well as two sixth-round picks for Vince Wilfork, and Shane Vereen. (Tip of the cap, so to speak, to Over The Cap’s website.)

The Patriots lost their first-round pick this year because when footballs get exposed to cold, wet weather, their air pressure decreases. So, sure, fine. That’s cool.

On to the rounds!


First Round –

2000: None (pick went to NYJ for BB)

2001: Richard Seymour, DL, Georgia

2002: Dan Graham, TE, Colorado

2003: Ty Warren, DL, Texas A&M

2004: Vince Wilfork, DL, Miami; Benjamin Watson, TE, Georgia

2005: Logan Mankins, OL, Fresno State

2006: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota

2007: Brandon Meriweather, DB, Miami

2008: Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee

2009: (No Pick – traded down)

2010: Devin McCourty, DB, Rutgers

2011: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

2012: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse; Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama

2013: (No Pick – traded down)

2014: Dominique Easley, DL, Florida

2015: Malcom Brown, DL, Texas

Total Picks: 15

Successful Picks: 13 (sans Maroney, Meriweather)

Most Successful Pick: Seymour

Percentage: 87

Every first-round pick has started in Foxboro. Maroney rushed for 1,580 yards in his first two years in the league, but injuries and an increased tendency to hesitate at the line made him expendable. Meriweather had 12 interceptions in his four years in New England and is currently playing on his fourth team (Giants). Not bad in either case, but each failed to live up to the lofty expectations of Bill’s Chosen.

Looks like they have another long-term starter in Brown, who began to excel by the midway point of his rookie season. If Easley can stay healthy, New England’s got a solid D-line combo for years to come.

This is why the lost first-rounder over amateur PSI measurements infuriates fans. The Pats had an 87 percent chance of drafting a multi-season starter taken away from them.


Second Round –

2000: Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii

2001: Matt Light, OT, Purdue

2002: Deion Branch, WR, Louisville

2003: Eugene Wilson, DB, Illinois; Bethel Johnson, WR, Texas A&M

2004: Marquise Hill, DE, LSU

2005: (No pick)

2006: Chad Jackson, WR, Florida

2007: (No pick – traded for Wes Welker)

2008: Terrence Wheatley, DB, Colorado

2009: Patrick Chung, DB, Oregon; Ron Brace, DT, BC; Darius Butler, DB, UConn; Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston

2010: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona; Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida; Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida.

2011: Ras-I Dowling, DB, Virginia; Shane Vereen, RB, California

2012: Tavon Wilson, DB, Illinois

2013: Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss; Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall

2014: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

2015: Jordan Richards, DB, Stanford

Total Picks: 22

Successful Picks: 12 (Light, Branch, E. Wilson, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Spikes, Vereen, T. Wilson, Collins, Garoppolo, Chung, Richards)

Most Successful Pick: Gronkowski (ed. note: this has been changed from an earlier draft that had Collins, as we considered the value outlined below. But, player-for-player, it’s Gronk.)

Percentage: 55

This year marks Gronk’s first at the top, replacing Light’s long run as best second-rounder. The Collins pick is worth noting as Belichick and Co. traded down from the first round for the linebacker, Logan Ryan in the third, and a seventh to trade for LeGarrette Blount. Value, people.

The Patriots tend to take risks here, sometimes looking past college injuries, which gets them a mixed bag (Dowling, Wheatley, Gronk). They also look at lesser-known players, like the aforementioned Wilson, plus Vollmer and Richardson. Collins was a super-athletic defensive end from a winless Southern Miss squad; Chad Jackson was a first-round-rated, super-athletic receiver out of Florida. Sometimes highly-touted doesn’t translate. (And I loved that Jackson pick.)

Speaking of receivers, we’re letting go of Aaron Dobson. As a rookie he played in 12 games and caught 37 passes. In the past two years he played in 12 games and caught 16 passes. The oft-injured pass-catcher’s time in Foxboro could be over. But before we hear the ol’ Belichick can’t draft receivers rant, let’s 1) remember the awesome double-dip of Deion Branch and David Givens in 2002 and Edelman in 2009, and 2) agree that gaining the trust of a demanding, obsessive, future Hall-of-Fame quarterback isn’t all that simple.

We said as much in our final preseason report back in 2011, invoking the Pats Free Agent JG Scale. You either pick up the system quickly (Jabar Gaffney) or not at all (Joey Galloway). Interesting to see where any incoming rookie receivers may fit.

Third Round –

2000: J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State

2001: Brock Williams, DB, Notre Dame

2002: (No pick)

2003: (No pick)

2004: Guss Scott, DB, Florida

2005: Ellis Hobbs III, CB, Iowa State; Nick Kaczur, OL, Toledo

2006: David Thomas, TE, Texas

2007: (No pick)

2008: Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State

2009: Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina; Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida

2010: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio

2011: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU; Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

2012: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas

2013: Logan Ryan, DB, Rutgers; Duron Harmon, DB, Rutgers

2014: (No pick)

2015: Geneo Grissom, DL, Oklahoma

Total Picks: 17

Successful Picks: 7 (Hobbs, Kaczur, Ridley, Mallett, Ryan, Harmon, Grissom)

Most Successful Pick: Ryan

Percentage: 41

Ryan and Harmon put a little shine on this sneaker of a round, while the potential of Grissom intrigues us. Maybe potential is what the New England draft gurus go for here: Bequette, Crable, and McKenzie were all athletic, productive college defenders who needed some polish. Tate had a major injury in college but actually showed something in New England, catching 24 passes for three TDs his second year. In hindsight, keeping him over Chad Ochocinco in 2011 would have made that offense more productive.

The Third Round begins the Inexact Science middle of the draft, where players often contribute in the short term but get replaced by better fits.

Fourth Round –

2000: Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State

2001: Kenyatta Jones, OT, South Florida; Jabari Holloway, TE, Notre Dame

2002: Rohan Davey, QB, LSU; Jarvis Green, DE, LSU

2003: Dan Klecko, DL, Temple; Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida

2004: Dexter Reid, DB, North Carolina; Cedric Cobbs, RB, Arkansas

2005: James Sanders, DB, Fresno State

2006: Garrett Mills, FB, Tulsa; Stephen Gostkowski, K, Memphis

2007: Kareem Brown, DL, Miami

2008: Jonathan Wilhite, DB, Auburn

2009: Rich Ohrnberger, OL, Penn State

2010: The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named, Florida

2011: (No Pick)

2012: (No Pick)

2013: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU

2014: Bryan Stork, OL, Florida State; James White, RB, Wisconsin; Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

2015: Trey Flowers, DL, Arkansas; Tré Jackson, OL, Florida State; Shaq Mason, OL, Georgia Tech

Total Picks: 23

Successful Picks: 10 (Green, Samuel, Sanders, Gostkowski, Stork, White, Fleming, Flowers, Jackson, Mason)

Most Successful Pick: Stork

Percentage: 43

Gostkowski took Samuel’s place last year, but we’re going with Stork now. Worth an argument, but Stork’s potential to play center and help the O-line mesh in the foreseeable future makes him our number one choice. (Plus, Gostkowski missed that extra point.)

Shh. Quiet in the back row.

Anyway, all six fourth-round players drafted in the past two years remain with the team. They include three starting offensive linemen and a solid third-down back. Flowers had a strong preseason and, if healthy this year, could contribute in a pass-rushing rotation. Call this round the answer to “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” as New England finds itself on a roll here recently.

Wait, do I hear Janet Jackson?

Fifth Round – 

2000: Dave Stachelski, TE, Boise State; Jeff Marriott, DT, Missouri

2001: Hakim Akbar, DB, Washington

2002: (No pick)

2003: Dan Koppen, OL, Boston College

2004: P. K. Sam, WR, Florida State

2005: Ryan Claridge, OLB, UNLV

2006: Ryan O’Callaghan, OL, California

2007: Clint Oldenburg, OL, Colorado State

2008: Matthew Slater, WR, UCLA

2009: George Bussey, OL, Louisville

2010: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan

2011: Marcus Cannon, OL, TCU; Lee Smith, TE, Marshall

2012: (No pick)

2013: (No pick)

2014: (No pick)

2015: Joe Cardona, LS, Navy

Total Picks: 14

Successful Picks: 5 (Koppen, Slater, Mesko, Cannon, Cardona)

Most Successful Pick: Koppen

Percentage: 36

For years, we named Round Five “Koppen or Bust.” Now, with Slater, Mesko and Cardona, we can rename it “The Special Teams Round.” Almost seemed like Belichick gave up on the round for three years after getting some success with Mesko and Cannon, but he couldn’t resist getting a Navy Guy into the ranks (a good thing, as the long-snapper position is solidified for as long as Cardona can stay in Foxboro).

No 2016 fifth-round selection as of this writing, as the Pats traded it to Houston for receiver Keshawn Martin. For 24 receptions and two touchdowns, probably worth it.

Sixth Round –

2000: Antwan Harris, CB, Virginia; Tom Brady, QB, Michigan; David Nugent, DT, Purdue.

2001: Arther Love, TE, South Carolina State; Leonard Myers, DB, Miami

2002: (No pick)

2003: Kliff Kingsbury, QB, Texas Tech

2004: (No pick)

2005: (No pick)

2006: Jeremy Mincey, OLB, Florida; Dan Stevenson, OL, Notre Dame; LeKevin Smith, DL, Nebraska

2007: Justin Rogers, OLB, SMU; Justise Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut; Corey Hilliard, OL, Oklahoma State

2008: Bo Ruud, OLB, Nebraska

2009: Jake Ingram, LS, Hawaii; Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky

2010: Ted Larsen, C, NC State

2011: Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas

2012: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State

2013: (No Pick)

2014: John Halapio, OL, Florida; Zach Moore, DE, Concordia

2015: Matthew Wells, LB, Mississippi State; A. J. Derby, TE, Arkansas

Total Picks: 22

Successful Picks: 4 (Brady, Pryor, Ebner, Derby)

Most Successful Pick: That QB (not Kingsbury, the other one)

Percentage: 18

Ah, the Brady Round. Bill Belichick could spend the rest of his career in Foxboro trading sixth-round picks for Dunkin’ Coolattas, yet we would still argue that this remains New England’s greatest draft round. (Excuse me while I go watch “The Brady 6” again.)

Ebner has settled in nicely as a core special teamer. Derby got hurt last year but showed some potential as a pass-catching complement to Gronk. Other than that, this comes up statistically as the least successful round, which proves that stats don’t always tell the whole story. Call it a strong dose of quality over quantity.

It’s also an odd little dead zone before the relative success of seventh-rounders and undrafted rookies, as we see below.

Seventh Round – 

2000: Casey Tisdale, OLB, New Mexico; Patrick Pass, RB, Georgia

2001: Owen Pochman, K, BYU; T. J. Turner, LB, Michigan State

2002: Antwoine Womack, RB, Virginia; David Givens, WR, Notre Dame

2003: Spencer Nead, TE, BYU; Tully Banta-Cain, LB, California; Ethan Kelley, NT, Baylor

2004: Christian Morton, CB, Florida State

2005: Matt Cassel, QB, Southern California; Andy Stokes, TE, William Penn

2006: Willie Andrews, DB, Baylor

2007: Oscar Lua, LB, Southern California; Mike Elgin, OL, Iowa

2008: (No pick)

2009: Julian Edelman, WR, Kent State; Darryl Richardson, DT, Georgia Tech

2010: Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt; Brandon Deaderick, DL, Alabama; Kade Weston, DL, Georgia; Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State

2011: Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU

2012: Alfonso Dennard, DB, Nebraska; Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern

2013: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois; Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers

2014: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan

2015: Darryl Roberts, DB, Marshall

Total Picks: 28 (Yeesh.)

Successful Picks: 8 (Pass, Givens, Banta-Cain, Cassel, Edelman, Deaderick, Dennard, Roberts)

Most Successful Pick: Edelman

Percentage: 29

Edelman remains the prize – call him the World Wonder of the Seventh.

Worth noting the whopping 28 picks in 16 years. Why not? They’re low-risk picks with potential, where almost one in three makes the grade. Even players not rated as successes can contribute for a season or two (Beauharnais, Richardson, Andrews, Buchanan). Looking forward to seeing Roberts in action, as he started the 2015 preseason vs. Green Bay (five tackles) but was placed on IR with a hurt wrist September 1.

A loosely-related, quirky detail: Givens in 2002. Edelman in 2009. Looks like it’s time for Belichick to satisfy the Seven-Year Itch for a prolific seventh-round receiver.


The Patriots consistently find undrafted free agents to contribute each season. In 2015, Georgia center David Andrews stepped in and helped the team to 11-0. In 2014, Malcolm Buter did something or other that seemed important. Overall, the percentage hasn’t been high: last season was atypical in that New England hosted seven and signed two (29 percent). Usually they bring in 12 to 17 and sign one or two.

Some past UDFAs who contributed: Stephen Neal, OL; Tom Ashworth, OL; Eric Alexander, LB; Randall Gay, DB; Wesley Britt, OL; Antwain Spann, CB; Kyle Eckel, RB; Santonio Thomas, DL: Mike Wright, DL; Corey Mays, LB; Pierre Woods, OLB; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB; Vince Redd, OLB, Tyson Devree, TE; Gary Guyton, LB; Brian Hoyer, QB; Ray Ventrone, DB.

Some UDFAs on the roster now: Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech; Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss; Josh Kline, OL, Kent State; Joe Vellano, DL, Maryland; Malcolm Butler, CB, West Alabama; David Andrews, OL, Georgia; Brandon King, DB, Auburn; Chris Harper, WR, Cal.

With a few solid picks, maybe a surprise UDFA or two, and good health, the 2016 Patriots could continue their impressive run.

Chris Warner seeks validation on Twitter @cwarn89

Roger Goodell Is A Pathological Liar – But We Already Knew That

The NFL’s release on PSI testing in August:

At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half will be collected by the KBC at halftime, and the League’s Security Representative will escort the KBC with the footballs to the Officials’ Locker room. During halftime, each game ball for both teams will be inspected in the locker room by designated members of the officiating and security crews, and the PSI results will be measured and recorded.  Once measured, those game balls will then be secured and removed from play.

For these randomly selected games only, the back-up footballs will be used for each team during the second half. Approximately three minutes prior to kickoff, the KBC along with a designated Game Official will bring the back-up set of game balls to the on-field replay station to be distributed to each club’s Ball Crew.

At the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the Officials’ Locker Room where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office by noon on the day following the game.

First paragraph: the PSI results will be measured and recorded

Third paragraph: all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

Fourth paragraph: All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office

Translation: We know we’re right and we’re going to nail the Patriots. They’re in big F___ing trouble.

In October, NFL Spokesman Greg Aiello told Tom E Curran about the PSI data:

A determination on how it will be shared has not been made yet.”

Translation: Welp, the early results haven’t been exactly what we thought, but we’ll spin it accordingly.

Today, Roger Goodell went on The Rich Eisen Show, and when asked about the PSI testing, had this to say:

No, Rich, what the league did this year was what we do with a lot of rules and policies designed to protect the integrity of the game, and that’s to create a deterrent effect. We do spot checks to prevent and make sure the clubs understand that we’re watching these issues. It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year. We’re pleased that we haven’t had any violations and we continue the work, obviously, to consistently and importantly enforce the integrity of the game and the rules that are designed to protect it.

Translation: The data in no way supported our preconceived notions. We need to minimize this.

It wasn’t a research study. They simply were spot checks. There were no violations this year.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The audacity, the arrogance of that statement.

The league devotes a big section of its August Operations release to outlining specifics of the procedures that will be followed, including the note that all reports are due into the league office by noon the day after the game.

But according to Goodell, this was no research study, it was just spot checks. Meant to be a deterrent.

There were no violations this year. A bold-faced, pathological lie, given all that we’ve learned about the Ideal Gas Law this past year, and the NFL’s insistence that it simply doesn’t exist.

Roger Goodell vilified Tom Brady by leaking that he had destroyed his phone, insinuating that there was important information on it that would’ve made Brady look bad. Today, Roger Goodell essentially confessed that the league has destroyed data that would’ve made the NFL look bad.

Because if the data was in the NFL’s favor, would this have been the outcome?


But if they released data that supported the Patriots, it would’ve gone against the case they’re appealing in federal court next month, and the cry to restore the Patriots draft picks would’ve arisen. They couldn’t let that happen.

I’ve been hoping beyond hope that the Patriots have been doing their own PSI testing this season, and waiting to spring it at the appropriate time. It’s a pipe-dream, but now would be the perfect to drop that.

Patriots’ “That Guy” 2016 Senior Bowl Edition

Last year, we had our most success yet with Patriots mock drafts. The key came in worrying less about what New England would do with specific picks (their active trading makes that tough), and focusing on the types of players they tend to select in general areas of the draft. You can take a gander at our 2015 draft review that wrapped up the “That Guy” series here.

With last weekend’s Senior Bowl in mind (along with the previous weekend’s East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Bowl), we looked at some players of note and tried to figure out where they’d fit in the Patriots draft.

The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots draft as well in the first round as any team, but they lost their top 2016 pick for using footballs that followed the Ideal Gas Law. Damnit. We’ll do better than the NFL here and just move on.

The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011. Javon Hargrave (6-2, 295) of South Carolina State could fit here. Hargrave had a late sack that helped keep the South atop the North. The stout defender was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the Mid-East Athletic Conference for the second year in a row after notching 59 total tackles (22 for loss, 13.5 sacks) and forcing two fumbles.

The defensive star of the East-West Shrine Game was pass-rusher Victor Ochi (6-1, 244) from Stonybrook. Though on the smaller side, Ochi succeeded no matter who lined up against him, with constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and one sack. Last season, Ochi tallied 13 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: Just as they did with Bryan Stork/Cameron Fleming in 2014 and Tré Jackson/Shaq Mason in 2015, the Patriots could use a couple of mid-round picks to strengthen their offensive line. Looking at the tackle position, we’ll take prospects Le’Raven Clark (6-6, 312) from Texas Tech and Kyle Murphy (6-6, 300) from Stanford. Clark showed surprising power on run plays, while Murphy displayed good feet and technique on pass protection.

Clark started 50 games at Texas Tech, which this year ranked tops third down conversion rate (52 percent), and second in scoring offense (46.6 ppg), total offense (595 ypg), and passing offense (390 ypg). Big 12 coaches voted him to the conference’s First Team. At Stanford, Murphy helped the Cardinal average 222 yards per game rushing and allow a mere 18 sacks over the season. He was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team by conference coaches.

Pats could have some size and talent to work with, there.

The Alabama Guy: Even if Bill Belichick and ‘Bama coach Nick Saban didn’t go back to the first Bush administration when they coached in Cleveland together, the current national champs are always worth a look. Last year, New England drafted Xzavier Dickson, currently with the Falcons. In 2012, the Patriots took Dont’a Hightower in the first round.

Lots to choose from here, but – despite a pass interference penalty in the end zone – we liked most of what cornerback Cyrus Jones (5-10, 196) presented, as he knocked down two passes and returned punts for the South team. At Alabama, Jones had 37 tackles (four for loss), two interceptions, and seven pass break-ups. He also averaged 12.6 yards per punt return (42 for 530), and took four (yes, four) back for touchdowns.

The Rutgers Guy(s): Having drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan and taken on Kevin Snyder and Jonathan Freeny as free agents, the Foxboro front office is contemplating renaming the team “The Scarlet Patriots, ” or maybe just “The New England Knights.”

In terms of picking a Senior Bowl favorite, this one should have been easy – receiver Leonte Carroo was the only Scarlet Knight in Mobile last week – but Carroo injured his leg during practice and could not play. Looking back at the Shrine Game, we saw left tackle Keith Lumpkin hold his own. Lumpkin’s got size (6-7, 327) and versatility (38 games at left tackle, 11 at right guard). He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year.

In the NFLPA Bowl, linebacker Quentin Gause (6-0, 243) led all tacklers with 6.5 stops (and frankly, the announcers should have talked about him more). By the banks of the Raritan, Gause served as a team captain and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, tallying 96 tackles including 12 for loss. A smartypants (4.0 fall GPA), Gause fits perfectly as the Rutgers/Special Teams Guy.

For all news of Rutgers football, please follow NJ Advance Media for writer Dan Duggan on Twitter @DDuggan21.

The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal Urban Meyer added ol’ Belichick pal (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so maybe some kind of connection here, you think? Some interesting guys to choose from, including receiver Braxton Miller (see below), tight end Nick Vannett (see below), safety Tyvis Powell, and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington. They all looked pretty good to us.

You know what? Of the two defenders, we’ll stick with Powell, who had the good sense to not solicit a prostitute before OSU’s bowl game. Powell (6-3, 208) demonstrated solid run support at the Senior Bowl. The graduate student (he completed his studies in 3.5 years) placed third on the team with 71 tackles, adding three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick.

The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with players who missed time due to injury. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley and offensive lineman Tré Jackson had knee problems in college; Rob Gronkowski had back issues at Arizona. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes not. (Ras-I Dowling, for one, never got over the injury bug.)

Penn State defensive lineman Carl Nassib didn’t play in the Senior Bowl (he hurt his shoulder in December and had some injuries during the week leading up to the game). Nassib, a walk-on for the Nittany Lions, had 15.5 sacks in 13 games this past season, with six forced fumbles and one interception. The 6-7, 275-pound pass-rusher was the 2015 Ted Hendricks Award winner, given to the nation’s top defensive end.

East-West Shrine Game running back Danny Lasco of Cal (6-0, 205) caught the eye with a 41-gard draw play on third and eight, and ended up with 62 yards on six carries (10.3 avg). In 2015 Lasco rushed for a 5.1-yard average for the Golden Bears, but only started three games as he battled an ankle injury in the latter part of the season.

The Backup Tight End: Starting with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski in 2000, the Patriots have drafted plenty of tight ends under Belichick. They got their starters in the first (Daniel Graham, 2002; Benjamin Watson, 2004) and second rounds (Gronk, 2010), but the search for a second TE hasn’t been as productive. (We won’t discuss The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named.)

While Ohio State’s Vannett (6-6, 260) looked the part of a sub-Gronk, and Greg Gronkowski (6-3, 234) looked the part of a lil’ Gronk, we went with South Carolina’s Jerrell Adams (6-5, 244) as a pass-catching tight end who showed decent on-line blocking skills. Adams looked smooth catching the ball in limited opportunities. We also appreciated his hustle as he prevented a TD by tracking down a South defender trying to return a blocked field goal. Last fall, Adams was second on the Gamecocks with 28 receptions for 421 yards (a noteworthy 15 yards per catch) and three TDs.

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting? Predicting how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls, because they’re not just learning a system, they’re trying to mesh with a perfectionist QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.

Yes, the dynamism of former Ohio State QB Miller reminded us of Julian Edelman and would be fun to watch in Foxboro. Still, we’ll go with Jay Lee (6-2, 214) out of Baylor. Lee made some solid catches, running fine routes and showing some elusiveness after the catch. At Baylor, Lee averaged almost 20 yards per reception (38 for 758, 19.9) and scored eight touchdowns.

Two Shrine Game receivers who stood out were Geronimo Allison of Illinois (6-3, 197) and Jared Dangerfied of Western Kentucky (6-1, 214). Allison led the West team with six receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns. He got invited to the Senior Bowl, where he caught one pass. Last season, Allison had 65 catches for 882 yards, both tops for the Illini, with three touchdowns. In the Shrine Game, Dangerfield tallied five catches for 84 yards, a 16.8 average. At WKU, Dangerfield had 82 grabs for 844 yards and eight TDs.

The Special Teams Guy: It began with Matthew Slater in 2008’s fifth round. It continued with selections of long snapper Jake Ingram in 2009, punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. The Pats like to pick guys with a special teams focus.

Oh, man. So many choices in these bowls. We’ll stick with two undersized linebackers: Tyler Matakevich of Temple (6-0, 233) and the appropriately named Eric Striker of Oklahoma (5-11, 228). Matakevich filled in running gaps well, making many of the opening tackles of the Senior Bowl. Striker made a couple of hard-nosed stops, notable for their speed. At Temple, Matakevich compiled 126 tackles last fall, with 15 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks). He also grabbed five interceptions. At Oklahoma, Striker had 67 tackles, with 19 for loss (7.5 sacks), 11 QB hits, and one interception.

The Navy Guy: Just about everyone following last year’s draft figured Cardona would end up in Foxboro for some length of time; few of us figured he’d get chosen in the fifth and end up starting for the year. Belichick, due in large part to his father’s background as a long-term assistant coach at the Naval Academy, always keeps an eye out for Midshipmen.

Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani (practice squad, 2009) were signed by the Patriots as free agents, a fact that we believe will pave the way for 2016 Senior Bowler Chris Swain (6-0, 247). At Annapolis, Swain rushed for 847 yards, averaged over five per carry, and notched 10 TDs. Not bad for a guy who sought contact more often than Velcro.

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Thinking about players like Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) for this category, as well as a little-recognized former QB out of Kent State with a name that sounds like Hulian Jedelman (2009).

In limited snaps, we noticed Minnesota receiver K. J. Maye (5-8, 194), whose quickness helped him make yardage on two end-around plays and one bubble screen. Maye was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year with a team-leading 65 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed nine times for 46 yards and a TD.

At the Shrine Game, one guy – one small guy – stood out. Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens (5-10, 174) caught three passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. He looked like a tough guy to cover, and continued to show his elusiveness as a kick returner, bringing one back for 35 yards. At UW, Mickens led the team with 58 catches for 692 yards (11.9 avg), scoring two TDs. He also ran the ball seven times, averaging 6.3 per carry and getting in the end zone once.

Next month, keep an eye out for our Patriots That Guy 2.0: Post-Combine Edition.

Chris Warner tweets about the inanity of life @cwarn89 

With A Little Bit Of Luck (2016 Edition)

(Editor’s Note: We ran this column last year and – given the craziness of the past wild card weekend – think it’s worth an updated review.)

In the NFL, every team needs some good fortune to win the Super Bowl.

Last Saturday and Sunday each provided a startling example. In weather so frigid they could have called in Jack London to write the game story, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh made three field goals in a row, including a 47-yarder, only to miss the potential game-winner from 27 yards out. Walsh had been on a 10-for-10 hot streak (including two 53-yarders) since his last miss on November 29 vs. Atlanta. Seattle did well to come back from a 9-0 deficit, but they got a big break.

Maybe Pittsburgh got a bigger one. After getting slammed to the turf, QB Ben Roethlisberger left the game for three series. He came back in despite moving with all the easy grace of a rusty lawn chair. After a few short passes, his one long throw sailed harmlessly over Antonio Brown’s head, the same head that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict crushed with a brutal-looking hit. Unnecessary roughness penalty,15 yards.

But wait, there’s more: while on the field arguing the call and standing off vs. his opponents, Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones confronted Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter, getting another 15-yard penalty. So, with 22 seconds left and no timeouts at Cincinnati’s 47-yard line, the Steelers picked up 30 yards on zero offensive plays, taking up zero seconds. Kicker Chris Boswell jogged onto the field and pushed the ball through for a 35-yard game winner.

Pittsburgh deserves some credit for not completely losing their minds (a low bar), and also for putting enough pressure on the Bengals to evoke the possibility of a meltdown. Jones insists that Brown faked getting hurt on the play, and that the receiver actually winked at him. If so, impressive. But, really, the Steelers basically did what children do on Christmas: they showed up and got their gifts.

This Saturday, a New England team with some key starters returning to action hosts a Kansas City team with at least one key starter (receiver Jeremy Maclin) nursing an injury (ankle). Is that the Patriots’ big break this week? We shall see.

For a look at how every team – no matter how deserving or how talented overall – needs the ball to bounce its way, see below, starting with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl run in early 2002.

2002 Super Bowl: New England 20, St. Louis 17

Most Fortunate Moment: Has to be the Tuck Rule, right? An obscure, now-abolished rule – albeit one with which Patriots fans had become familiar in 2001 after their Week Two game against the Jets – was implemented correctly to overturn an apparent Tom Brady fumble, thus allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick the football into the maw of a blizzard for the greatest field goal in playoff history.

Hey, Raiders fans? That was 2002. You want to live in 2002, go listen to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” and watch “CSI.” We can share content on Friendster. Might be time to let it go.

Honorable Mention: Pittsburgh’s special teams implosion in the AFC Champsionship game, allowing two TDs (punt return and blocked kick return); having Drew Bledsoe as a bench QB after Brady hurt his ankle in the first half of that game; the Super Bowl refs adapting a “let ’em play” attitude, with Pats DBs getting their hands on more Rams than a shepherd in a shearing contest.

2003 Super Bowl: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21

Most Fortunate Moment: Coach Jon Gruden got to play his previous team in the Super Bowl, reaping the benefits of new Oakland head coach Bill Callahan failing to make significant changes to the offense that Gruden had developed. Talk about an in-depth scouting report. Almost makes one feel badly for Raiders fans. (The first word of that sentence is key.)

Honorable Mention: Oakland’s starting center Barret Robbins did not show up to practice Super Bowl week (he was barred from playing and later diagnosed with manic depression).

2004 Super Bowl: New England 32, Carolina 29

Most Fortunate Moment: After Carolina tied it at 29, John Kasay kicked off out-of-bounds, giving New England the ball at their own 40 with 1:08 left. Vinatieri kicked the game-winner with four seconds remaining.

Honorable Mention: Panthers coach John Fox went for two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter and failed; in the divisional playoffs, normally sure-handed Titans receiver Drew Bennett dropped a pass that would have gotten Tennessee into field goal position to tie it; in the AFC Championship vs. Peyton Manning and the Colts, the refs allowed the Pats’ defensive backs to play with the type of aggression that would get penalized today; plus, snow fell in Foxboro, an anathema to most dome teams.

2005 Super Bowl: New England 24, Philadelphia 21

Most Fortunate Moment: The failure of the Eagles to deal with shaken QB Donovan McNabb. Down by 10, Philly declined to hurry on offense, in part because McNabb was having trouble breathing after getting hit by Tedy Bruschi. (You can read a more in-depth story on that here.)

Honorable Mention: Optimum health. As they had in 2003, many New England starters missed games due to injury, but most came back in time for the playoffs; more snow in Foxboro vs. the Colts.

Overall, it’s tough to associate pure luck with this team: one of the best of the decade and certainly one of the strongest, deepest squads in Patriots history.

2006 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10

Most Fortunate Moment: Not having to play the Patriots in the playoffs. (Well, they had shown Pittsburgh the way home twice in four years.)

Honorable Mention: Some close officiating in the big game. This is not to say that Pittsburgh didn’t deserve to win (they appeared to be the better squad), but had some of those close calls gone the other way, Seattle would have been the lucky ones. In the divisional playoffs at Indianapolis, Jerome Bettis fumbled on the Colts’ two-yard line, paving the way for glory for Nick Harper on the fumble return, but Roethlisberger made a diving, spinning tackle at Indy’s 42; Colts kicker/anti-hero Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential game-tying 47-yard field goal.

2007 Super Bowl: Indianapolis 29, Chicago 17

Most Fortunate Moment: Whatever switch went off in Manning’s head in the AFC Championship that had him looking for drive-sustaining first downs instead of long passes. The Patriots defense had to stay on the field forever and couldn’t protect their halftime lead.

Honorable Mention: The Patriots defense was also suffering from the flu, wearing them down further; NE receiver Reche Caldwell dropped an easy pass that would have at least led to a clock-killing first down; cornerback Ellis Hobbs got a questionable pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Colts score; Indy got to play Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl.

2008 Super Bowl: New York 17, New England 14

Most Fortunate Moment: We think we know what most fans would say, but we’ll point to the NFC Championship, specifically Brett Favre and his ill-advised pass-punt in overtime, an easy interception that led to the Giants’ game-winning field goal. Few New England fans doubt that the Pats would have cruised past the Packers.

Honorable Mention: The Helmet Catch, of course; Eli Manning fumbled twice in the Super Bowl but lost neither; Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel failed to secure what could have been the game-sealing interception on New York’s final drive.

2009 Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

Most Fortunate Moment: While Steelers defender James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown, he got unintentional help from Cardinal Antrel Rolle who – stepping onto the edge of the field for a closer look – bumped into receiver Larry Fitzgerald, preventing Fitzgerald from making the tackle in time. (Keep an eye on number 11 running along the sideline in this clip.)

Honorable Mention: Roethlisberger bounced back from a concussion suffered during the final week of the regular season to beat the Chargers in the divisional round; in the AFC Championship, the QB fumbled twice but lost neither in a 24-19 win over the Jets.

2010 Super Bowl Winner: New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17

Most Fortunate Moment: On a potential game-tying drive, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne came up short on his route, allowing Tracy Porter to cut in front of him for a pick-six.

Honorable Mention: During their on-sides kick – a gamble that made putting all your cash into lottery tickets seem like a sound investment – Indy receiver Hank Baskett had the ball bounce off of him, giving the Saints possession to open the second half.

2011 Super Bowl: Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

Most Fortunate Moment: I’m not sure what I was doing at this time, but, honest to God, I remember nothing about these playoffs. Apparently the Chicago Bears were down to their third-string QB (Caleb Hanie) in the NFC Championship game; Hanie threw an interception directly at Packers defensive lineman B. J. Raji, which seems like trying to throw a crumpled-up piece of paper into a wastebasket and not realizing there’s a door in front of it.

Honorable Mention: Um, I dunno … health? Seriously, I got nothing. Did these playoffs happen?

2012 Super Bowl: New York 21, New England 17

Most Fortunate Moment: An injury to regular San Francisco punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. put Kyle Williams into the spotlight for the NFC Championship. That worked out great for New York, as Williams muffed one return and fumbled the other, respectively leading to a regulation TD and the game-winning field goal in overtime for a 20-17 win.

Honorable Mention: Gronkowski getting hurt during the AFC Championship, making him less than 100 percent for the Super Bowl; New York fumbling three times in the big game and – again – losing nary a one.

2013 Super Bowl: Baltimore 34, San Francisco 31

Most Fortunate Moment: In the divisional playoff, Denver safety Rahim Moore got lost on Joe Flacco’s 70-yard pass, allowing the tying touchdown with 31 seconds left to play. Baltimore won in OT.

Honorable Mention: Gronkowski’s absence from the AFC Championship game; Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib’s injury during that game opening up the passing lanes for Flacco; in the Super Bowl, terrible play-calling for the 49ers on their potential game-winning drive; on that drive, the refs allowed contact on a potential pass interference penalty in the end zone. (Something that probably would get the call this year.)

2014 Super Bowl: Seattle 43, Denver 8

Most Fortunate Moment: On the first snap of the game, Denver center Manny Ramirez shotgunned the football past Peyton Manning into the end zone for a what-the-heck-just-happened safety. Seattle’s D had a huge game, but didn’t have to lift a finger to get the lead. The Broncos’ lack of preparedness for the Seahawks’ 12th man set the tone for the night.

Honorable Mention: In the NFC title game, on a fourth-and-seven play, Niners defensive end Aldon Smith went offside, giving QB Russell Wilson a free play (as he told in this game story); Jermaine Kearse snatched Wilson’s pass in the end zone, giving Seattle a 20-17 lead on their way to a 23-17 win.

2015 Super Bowl: New England 28, Seattle 24

Most Fortunate Moment: Unlike what seems like the rest of the world, we don’t think the play call was the worst in Super Bowl history; however, the Seahawks’ decision to pass from the one-yard line gave rookie Patriots defensive back (and instant fan favorite for life) Malcolm Butler the chance to intercept the ball and seal the game. Also fortunate? As we saw in the “Do Your Job” program, the Patriots had planned for that exact play in the previous week’s practice.

Honorable Mention: The Patriots finally – finally! – had a mostly healthy roster, with Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and a full O-line contributing; Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed with New England and re-shaped the defense. (For a year, at least. A very good year.)

For most of the past two games, the Seahawks seemed destined to win this thing. From Green Bay’s inexplicable breakdown in the NFC Championship to Tom Brady’s first interception (I mean, really Tom. Where? To whom?) to what would have been deemed the Juggle Catch, Seattle looked like SB repeaters for sure.

The Pats just needed a break. And they got it.

Thoughts regarding lucky moments on the big stage? Let us know in the comment space below.

You can reach Chris Warner at or @cwarn89 on Twitter.

Pats 2015 Fourth Quarter Review

The Patriots flew into Miami for their regular-season finale with only slightly less energy than a potato battery. Their 20-10 loss made them 2-3 over their past five games, the worst mark for New England in December/January since Pete Carroll’s final season in 1999.

The Pats beat the teams they should have, keeping pace by demolishing the Texans 27-6 and pushing past the Titans, 33-16. They lost one game they could have won, falling to the Jets in overtime, 26-20. Had they taken that game, the Dolphins “contest” (quotes all mine) would not have mattered. As things sit, New England has a 12-4 record and a bye week to try to figure it all out.

Some thoughts as we prepare to watch others play for the privilege of visiting Foxboro…

Price Is Right? Chris Price of wrote a follow-up piece on how, when it comes to the playoffs, health trumps momentum. It’s a compelling debate, especially when you look at a team like Baltimore, who went 1-4 at the end of 2012 on their way to Super Bowl success. Again, this Pats team might get bounced faster than a Super Ball in a paint shaker. But the phrase “anything can happen” can work for optimists, too.

Lost In Logan: Disappointing couple of weeks for cornerback Logan Ryan. After a sharp run through most of December, Ryan got bypassed by Brandon Marshall in New York (eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns) and outplayed in part by Devante Parker in Miami (five for 106 and one TD). New England’s defensive backfield is playing like season two of that show you unexpectedly enjoyed last year: you want to keep liking it, but it hasn’t been living up to its potential. A healthier safety crew and front seven might help.

O, O Sea Bass: Yup. You know it’s the end of the regular season when I’ve run out of puns. (Oh, Sheila? Anyone? No? Too bad.) Anyhoo, this season the Patriots O-line has gone through more combos than a busload of returning Outward Bound students at McDonald’s. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer went down with an ankle injury during the first quarter of the Jets game December 27, providing the final push to this superhuman-sized row of dominoes. Vollmer had stepped over from right tackle to take over for Nate Solder. His injury forced Cameron Fleming to left tackle, which has made things tough for the offense. His expected return could help settle down the entire line.

Jules Of Denial: I mean, yeah, if you want to talk injuries, the Patriots have more personnel on reserve than the Coast Guard. Yet, amidst all the gloom, we seem to look past the fact that Julian Edelman, New England’s best receiver, looks primed to come back for the playoffs. After catching 61 passes in his first nine games, Edelman sat with a broken bone in his foot. That means almost seven completions per contest had to got to other targets. Nice to have that potential back for the big games.

How LaFar He LaFell: I suppose Patriots fans should consider themselves lucky they got the 2014 version of Brandon LaFell when they did. That guy distinguished himself as a solid pass-catcher in big situations, culminating in the game-winning score in the Divisional Round vs. Baltimore and the opening TD in the Super Bowl. Not sure what happened to that guy. Maybe off-season foot surgery took more of a toll than expected. His first game back, vs. the Jets, featured nine drops. He has only 37 receptions in 11 games, half of his 74 in 16 games last year. Zero touchdowns this season vs. seven in 2014. Pretty rough, especially considering the absence of Edelman and the need for different receivers.

I’m Just A Bill: Everything I just said about LaFell works for tight end Scott Chandler, minus the Super Bowl run. Last year Chandler had 47 receptions with Buffalo. This year in Foxboro, 23. Too often these guys react to the football like emotionally stunted bridesmaids watching the bouquet flying toward them, giving an effort that seems perfunctory at best.

No Reason To Get Excited, Or All Along The Hightower: If injuries to a football team are like removing tools out of a toolbox, then linebacker Dont’a Hightower is the hammer. New England’s run defense hasn’t been the same since Hightower’s injury in Denver; it remains to be seen if he has played again at full strength.

Eh, at this point it just feels like we’re making excuses, but when you’re the most injured team in the league, it makes a difference. Getting back to full health, or close to it, will give the Patriots a chance to show what they can do.

Or maybe everyone should just lower their expectations. Speaking of which…

Earthwind And Fired: In past years, New England has been able to find a free agent or practice squad player who can fill in at an acceptable level. No one should ever confuse defensive back Earthwind Moreland with Ty Law, but the former stepped up from the practice squad after Law’s season-ending injury in 2004 and notched 17 total tackles (the only stops recorded in his five seasons in the NFL). Not a long-term solution, but a good enough stop-gap.

In a similar way, Danny Woodhead got to Foxboro in September of 2010 and took over Kevin Faulk’s third-down role less than two weeks later after Faulk went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Woodhead averaged 5.6 yards per carry (97 for 547) and 11.1 yards per catch (34 for 379). Last year, guys like LeGarrette Blount and Alan Branch helped out down the stretch. This season, the rewards have been harder to come by.

Defensive back Leonard Johnson had a sweet Pats debut at Houston, breaking up two passes and dancing like it was Gino time. He did fine vs. Tennessee, then seemed to slip over the past two games. Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle got hurt before getting to show much. Receiver Chris Harper came with high hopes off the practice squad. I’ve watched him twice in the past six weeks and have yelled at the TV both times.

Just catch the punt! Just get out-of-bounds!

Disappointing. Much like running back Steven Jackson, who has averaged 2.4 yards per carry. Not all his fault – he’s only been a Patriot for two weeks and could deliver more in the post-season – but still tough to watch.

Bye Curious: The past month has felt like a team tetanus shot they just wanted to get out of the way. So, how much can one week off really help? We only know that things can change quickly in the NFL. No AFC team looks unbeatable right now. Kansas City has had a great run, but how will they play at Foxboro? Denver deserves credit for nabbing the number one seed, but how will they transition from a young, promising QB back to their Hall of Famer, the amazing Ashley Manning?

(Oops. Sorry. That was meant for Peyton Manning, but I addressed it to his wife.)

This thing is wide open. No one’s undefeated. No one’s playing perfectly. Let’s see how it all turns out.

Chris Warner like to spend a little too much time on Twitter @cwarn89