Patriots Thursday Observations, Bills Review

“Well, that is how you go into a bye week.” 

That’s what I typed Sunday evening to begin my column. Just a simple, easy line marking the enthusiasm that abounded in New England after the Patriots smacked the Bills, 41-25, gaining a league-best 7-1 record and a three-game lead in the AFC East heading into their mid-season break.

Perfect. Easy.

Oh, a trade? Involving whom, you say?

Well, then. Goodbye, Jamie Collins, hello, speculation.

Has Belichick lost it, as Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard said? Was Collins a freelancing bum, as Fox’s Mike Lombardi said? Probably neither.

Two seemingly disparate thoughts can be true here. One, Collins was the most athletic, dynamic player on New England’s defense. Two, Bill Belichick had to trade him.

Collins was seeking a new contract. He also had a tendency to freelance, which sometimes made for a broken play, but other times resulted in a showcase for his tremendous athletic skills. Human nature being what it is, a player in that situation might try to freelance a little more often in an effort to make more “splash”-type plays, increasing his future contract value. The fewer reps the player is allowed on the field, the more this tendency may arise in a quest for that one highlight. This might be true, but again: this is human nature. We don’t need to trash Collins on his way out.

We also don’t need to ever utter the words, “If I were Belichick,” because none of us outside of Gillette Stadium (and, it appears, few of those inside of it) knows what the man sees or understands that helps him arrive at his conclusions. Again, human nature being what it is, the head coach might feel the need to ensure that every defensive player heeds the word of his coordinator. As he overlooks every aspect of the team, he might want to feel fully in charge of said team and subtract anything or anyone who he feels could impede that, even his most talented defensive player. This might be true, but we don’t need to trash Belichick.

In short, the coach made an impactful decision that seems rash, but it’s one that he felt he needed to make. We’ll see how it works out.

Anyway, the Patriots won! They’re 7-1! They have next week off!

Wait: we can’t even distract ourselves with a game this week? Good God.

Player/Game Observations

Third Degree Burns: The Patriots started out super hot on third down, as Tom Brady began the game five-for-five to convert all chances, eight for 10 passing overall, with 107 yards and two touchdowns. Most remarkable about Brady’s performance was his ability to use all of his receivers. On their opening TD drive, Brady shot a down-and-out to Julian Edelman for a first down. He completed a four-yarder to Martellus Bennett, followed by a pretty floater to James White in the left flat for a third-down conversion. Rob Gronkowski’s one-handed grab was out of bounds, but Chris Hogan’s 16-yard out converted the next set of downs. Edelman gained 10 after finding an opening against zone coverage. Gronk caught one, albeit for a three-yard loss after getting felled by the ant-like swarm of Bills. Then Danny Amendola gathered in a nine-yard touchdown pass. All told, Brady completed seven passes to six receivers on the first drive.

I mean, if you’re playing defense, who’s the guy to cover?

A Game Of Quarters: New England started out Mojave-like in the first quarter, burning the Bills for 120 yards and two touchdowns. They went Arctic in the second, frozen to minus-10 yards up to the 6:20 mark. Yes, the Bills’ defense deserves some credit, but penalties and missed blocks led to the kind of inconsistency that you’d hate to see show up at the wrong time. What gets so frustrating is that, as we see above, when the Pats get it going, they seem about as stoppable as that runaway train that picked up speed and kept going in that movie.

What the hell was the name of that movie again?

Anyway, maybe that’s the frightening aspect of this team: as good as they’ve looked overall, they still haven’t played a consistent four quarters yet.

Hold Your Head High: But be careful linebacker Dont’a Hightower doesn’t try to knock it off. His bone-jarring hit on running back Mike Gillislee in the first quarter set the tone for the day. Devin McCourty smacked Reggie Bush at the 13 on a kickoff return. McCourty had another noteworthy stop, mashing Brandon Tate like he was an Irish breakfast. And late in the fourth quarter, Malcolm Butler laid the wood on Robert Woods (ha! see what I did there?). Buffalo’s a team that wants to act like a bully, and they reacted like bullies tend to when New England stood up to them.

Will A Part Of Gronk Feel Sad When He Scores 70? Congratulations to Rob Gronkowski, scorer of 69 touchdowns in a Patriots uniform. Gronk set the New England career record on Sunday, passing receiver Stanley Morgan. Here’s what amazes me: Morgan took 13 seasons to notch that number; Gronk took seven. Even more incredible, Morgan played 180 games for New England, while Gronk has only played 86.

So … that’s pretty good.

From Glen To Glen And Down The Mountain Side: Oh, Danny Boy. Amendola’s rambling 73-yard kick return to start the third quarter deserves more attention, as it marked the first time since the Houston game in Week Four that a Patriots special teams play made had such a positive effect on the team. This replay shows the blocking alignment from the end zone, as well as a nifty move by Amendola as he spins out of a tackle at the 45-yard line and zips to his right for another 30 yards. That, plus three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, demonstrated Amendola’s aptitude for key plays.

Christopher Cross? If Chris Hogan was angry at Buffalo, he got it out of his system after four receptions for 91 yards and a TD. Brady’s 53-yard parabolic touchdown pass graphed out how the rest of the day would go for the home team. Even more impressive was Hogan’s sideline catch in the second quarter where he leapt over cornerback Ronald Darby and latched onto the football for a 19-yard gain. That play brought New England out to its own 44-yard line and set up Brady’s 53-yarder to Gronk for a 21-10 lead.

Post Mortem: How about the goalposts killing the Bills’ hopes before halftime? With 4:18 remaining in the half, the home team drove from their own 25 to New England’s 31. With 32 seconds left, Dan Carpenter gave the 49-yard field goal a shot, but the kick sailed like an eephus pitch in the Western New York wind, going high and to the right before eventually boinking off the upright. In the remaining 27 seconds, Brady threw an incomplete pass, then found White for a six-yard gain where he shimmied out of bounds. A 15-yard gain to Amendola, followed by a 7-yard pickup to Gronk, set up the Pats at the 33. With three seconds remaining, Stephen Gostkowski hit a 51-yarder that moved like a knuckleball before it banked off the left post and through for three points.

A potential 21-13 lead quickly became a 24-10 advantage. Coupled with Amendola’s second-half kickoff return and Edelman’s touchdown off of a screen pass, New England scored 10 points in less than one minute of playing time to break out to a 31-10 lead early in the third.

Random Observations

Will Commish For Food: I know, we around New England have stopped talking about domestic assault in the NFL because a player got traded, but I’d like to add one more note before the post-bye week. Commissioner Roger Goodell makes over $30 million a year. The league should know that I am willing to do his job for less than half that. Shoot, one-tenth that. The first rule I’d like to enact involves the penalty for abuse. We can keep the automatic six-game suspension, but we will use those six games to run a thorough investigation from an unbiased third party. If the charges have merit, and if there is proof such abuse has occurred before, the player in question will be suspended for a year, with pay. The team will pay the salary, though they can work with the league to move the salary off the cap.

This does a few things, most notably remove conflict involving payment that can often prevent a victim of abuse from coming forward. The player must then attend a psychiatric health facility as an in-patient for anywhere from three months to the full year, depending on the extent of the abuse. No matter how long he attends, he is on probation for the extent of his employment by the NFL.

This would a) keep the abused party safe, b) ease the stresses of day-to-day life that become a factor with some professional athletes’ behavior, and c) encourage the athlete to focus on himself and do the work necessary to avoid becoming a repeat offender.

It’s an imperfect strategy that could withstand some tweaks, but it beats the “nothing to see here” m.o. of the NFL. Anything that would help someone come forward – victim or abuser – and get necessary help seems like a better idea than a blind eye and a cover-up. Or the owners could fire Goodell and hire Amy Trask. But they’d never do that.

Collins’ Worth: One issue I have with sports radio in general involves the amount of time taken on each topic. Take a look at the quote box below for a second.

Jamie Collins was the Patriots’ most talented defensive player. Bill Belichick traded him for what seemed like little value. This doesn’t make much sense.

Got it? Great. Now talk about this for four hours, and then four more hours, and four more on top of that, and you have the gist of every Boston sports radio station this week. Speculation combined with ignorance that often materializes in the form of rhetorical questions (“Did Collins do something? Is he hurt? Is Belichick mad at him?”) makes for tedious radio. It reminds me of when Princess Diana died in a car crash. The American cable news networks kept going overseas for updates.

Yes, updates. As if maybe she weren’t still dead.

The Collins trade is over. It’s unsettling and confusing. But we know for sure that Belichick didn’t do this on a whim. He has no other player who can fill the fast-moving, high-jumping shoes of his departed linebacker, so he’ll gather his forces and try to put everyone in the right spot for the next eight games and beyond. We’ll see how it works, and until then only speculate whether or not it will.

Not-So-Happy Gilmore: Man, the Bills will never learn. After the game, instead of talking about self-improvement or how the Patriots deserved credit, most Bills players refused to believe they’d faced a better team. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said that the Patriots “didn’t ever beat us one-on-one, really. We just gave them everything.” This seems an odd thing to say, as on the Hogan TD it appeared that Gilmore himself was so thoroughly roasted he’s now featured in a Boston Market menu with two sides and a medium soft drink.

Let’s see, here … on New England’s first TD, Brady scrambled to his right, allowing Amendola to lose defensive back Jonathan Meeks in the end zone. Hogan then ran past the entire Buffalo defense for the next score. Then Gronk dusted Nickell Robey-Coleman for a TD. So that makes three instances where the Patriots seemed to get the better of the Bills in one-on-one match-ups.

Gilmore’s seemed an odd point of view to take, especially considering Coach Rex Ryan’s realistic, sportsmanlike press conference where he lauded the Patriots and seemed willing to concede the AFC East title to them. Not sure how Bills fans feel, but measured, contemplative Rex seems like a better bet for their future than fiery, trash-talking Rex.

I Have Osmosed The Basicalities: On CBS’ halftime show, after the panel lauded Brady’s efforts and execution, James Brown said, “He has internalized the fundamentals,” and then went to commercial break. Um, what?

In this situation, we see that part of Brown’s job involves getting the last word in before each break. This can lead to unusual utterances like the one above, where he had to say something, no matter what. Kind of like what the expert in the science-fiction movie does at the end of each scene: “I know one thing: we’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Oh, really? We’ve never seen a robot the size of a skyscraper destroying a city before? Thanks for the tip.

Farming Cumberlands: The Patriots tried out a number of special teams free agents recently, including old friend Tyler Ott, long snapper out of Harvard. (If he ever makes a mistake, Vegas won’t even carry the odds that the announcer will say, “Not the smartest move for a Harvard kid, eh?” Hilarious!) Also of note, Oregon punt returner Bralon Addison and Cumberlands kick returner Wendall Williams (not to be confused with Wendy O. Williams, late lead singer of the Plasmatics. Oh, you didn’t confuse them? Fine. Never mind.)

Addison (5-9, 197) returned this 81-yard beauty a year ago at Michigan State. He was signed by the Broncos as a rookie free agent, then released in August. Williams (5-11, 185) ran an alleged 4.19-second 40-yard dash, though at his pro day he was timed at 4.40. He also had a 6.64-second 3-cone drill, which is Edelmanesque. In 2015 at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky (Go Patriots!), Williams topped the nation in kickoff return yards per attempt (32.4). He spent some time with the Texans and the Jets this season. You can see some of his college highlights here.

Way too many column inches to spend on two fringe NFL guys, but it points to a desire to have consistency on kick returns. Before Amendola’s efforts Sunday, Matthew Slater brought back the Bills’ first kick and fumbled (though helpfully, harmlessly out of bounds). Edelman has brought stability to the punt return unit, but watching the Patriots’ two best wide receivers make themselves vulnerable to high-speed punishment doesn’t exactly soothe the nerves. Could be time for a regular return guy to take the hits. (Come on, Cyrus Jones. Pull it together.)

Send Me An AngleI have to wonder if the NFL really wants to do what’s best for the game, because they refuse to buy cameras for pylons. As Coach Belichick suggested, cameras placed on the goal line give the best angle for whether or not the ball crosses the plane. We saw a perfect example of this on Edelman’s touchdown, when he scooted past one defender (with help from a nifty cut block from Amendola) and scrambled over another to reach the ball toward the end zone.

Did he make it before his elbow touched? I assume most Patriots fans think so while most Bills fans would disagree. And we’ll never know, because the NFL has deemed it “too expensive” to equip each pylon with a camera. Really? A quick search for spy cameras shows that WalMart prices them at about $30 each. Maybe they’d require some higher-tech devices, but they can’t be that expensive.

Again, the NFL loses credibility here after spending $12 million on an investigation into alleged football deflation. If they wanted to improve this aspect of the game, they could do it, easily.

A Little Out Of Thuney: I’ve heard it’s good to read hard-copy print instead of pixels at some points during the day, so Sunday morning I skimmed the Lindy’s draft magazine for 2016 (and, if you’re going to buy a draft magazine, this is the one). Entertaining to read the pre-draft statuses of guard Joe Thuney out of N. C. State and linebacker Elandon Roberts from Houston, whom the Patriots grabbed in the third and sixth rounds, respectively.

Lindy’s listed both players as “Worth Watching,” meaning they deemed neither worthy of a draft pick. This puts Thuney in Sebastian Vollmer territory, as the Patriots turned a lot of heads using a 2009 second-rounder on the Houston product who was not ranked in most mock drafts. Like Vollmer, Thuney has started since the beginning of camp. Roberts, meanwhile, has tallied 20 tackles, almost all of which have come in the past four games in relief of Collins.

(I wrote that before the trade, I swear.)

Giving Up The Ghost: As a regular viewer of “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” (and, yes, I am a grown man), I have to wonder about the addition of humorless, joyless murderer Ghost Rider into the mix. His head flames up because he made a deal with the devil, apparently, and now he’s useful in eradicating ghosts. Seems like a lot to add to a show already dealing with super-powered inhumans and alien life forms. It’s like if “The X-Files” had a story arc that took place in Middle-earth. Way too much going on, there.

A Nice Departure: It’s probably due to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” residing in my high school wheelhouse, but Southwest Airline’s lip synch commercial is one of the only ads this season that I actually look forward to seeing again.

Cold Front: When my sister and I were little, we had nicknames for the various cough syrups our mother gave us. Dimetapp was “Yummy,” Robitussin was “Yucky,” and the brown bottle of prescription antibiotics Mom kept around for the tough coughs was “Poison.” It amazes me that, 40 years later, Robitussin still hasn’t figured out how to make their product taste like something other than cherry-infused candle wax and despair.

Yes, we give our child Dimetapp. And I am jealous of her.

Rest easy this week, friends. The Pats host Seattle on November 13 at 8:30.

Chris Warner overbought candy for trick-or-treaters by a laughable amount, which wasn’t entirely by accident. He tweets: @cwarn89 

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So, That Jamie Collins Trade…

I won’t pretend to understand why the Patriots made the decision to trade Jamie Collins.

Yesterday’s trade, which shocked and baffled fans and media is now in its second day of debate.

The rants are predictable. The anger and confusion palpable, on Twitter; profane.

Jamie Collins is a marvel to watch. He did things no one in a Patriots uniform has ever done before. His athleticism is as jaw-dropping as the news that the Patriots essentially dumped him to the 0-8 Cleveland Browns for nothing more than what they would be expected to get in compensation if they kept him and let him walk as a free agent after the season.

Since the move makes no sense on the surface – not to fans, not to media who cover the league, nor probably to other league executives – it goes without saying that there is something more here.

What?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Mike Felger doesn’t know. Lou Merloni doesn’t know. Marc Bertrand sure as HELL doesn’t know.

Unlike them, I’m not going to speculate. What’s the point?

Instead, I’ll give you my reaction. I was at lunch when I got an alert on my phone. I saw the news. I was shocked.

My second reaction? I shook my head and smiled.

I smiled? Yeah. I smiled at the sheer audacity and for lack of a better term, balls, that Bill Belichick and the Patriots have. They truly do not care what anyone thinks about their moves.

You would think that after 16 years on the job, the man would begin to lack the ability to surprise. Apparently that’s not the case.

The standard answer – We did what we thought was best for the football team – is infuriating, yet completely accurate. I have no doubts that they have their reasons for thinking that shuffling off Jamie Collins was for the overall good of the team. Are those reasons valid?

We don’t know. Yet. But if there is anyone in professional sports who should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this sort of thing, it is Bill Belichick.

He does this time after time, the reaction is always the same, and yet…the team chugs along.

Whether it is Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, Wes Welker, Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins, the reaction from fans and talking head media is always hyperbolic, always irrational, always angry.

Then time passes, and while the moves still may not make sense, there has been little to no impact from the subtraction, people shrug and move on to the next drama.

One might think that after witnessing this occurrence time after time after time, one would begin to establish some sort of trust that the individual making these moves (or at least signing off on them) actually knows what they’re doing.

But instead, whenever this type of thing happens, the same, tired cliches and angry rants are spouted. HUBRIS! ARROGANCE! EGO! POND SCUM! THE GAME IS PASSING HIM BY!

Who knows, maybe THIS IS the move that finally sends the New England Patriots into the death spiral back to mediocrity. If it is, there will be no shortage of “experts” lining up to tell you they knew it all along.

Me? Shocking as this will be for some of you to read, I’ll trust that they know what they’re doing.

Patriots Thursday Observations, Steelers Review

A brief history seems in order here. In 1981, your New England Patriots went 2-14, earning the nickname “The Patsies.” They played the Baltimore “Dolts” in the season finale, with both teams ending the season at 2-14 (Baltimore’s two wins coming against New England). In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Patriots went 5-4. They managed 8-8 in 1984, then 11-5 in 1985, leading to their enthralling playoff run, where they beat the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins in their own houses.

Then, of course, they suffered what was at that time the worst Super Bowl loss in history, getting torn apart by the Bears, 46-10.

That was the team I grew up with. That was a team that, much like most franchises, saw its fortunes go up and down through each decade, without a championship.

I mention this because the Patriots beat the Steelers at Heinz field, 27-16, yet the listless atmosphere around New England suggested we had all just simultaneously finished The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Yes, the team has some issues to deal with, as we’ll discuss below. Still, considering how that game started – with one offensive play resulting in a turnover in their own half of the field – it’s a solid win overall.

The Patriots are now 6-1. With one more victory, defensive end Chris Long will have as many wins as he did in any full season over his eight years in St. Louis. Right now, the Cleveland Browns are 0-7. Speaking of the Browns, let’s recall this little ditty from way back on 2003, when the 5-2 Patriots hosted the 3-4 Browns and needed a Ty Law interception late to seal a 9-3 win. I don’t remember hearing too many complaints after that one.

So maybe we should all lighten up, look at New England’s record over the past 15 years (and contrast it with the 15 before that) and just relax a little. Every victory is sweet and should be savored.

On to Buffalo Sunday at 1 p.m. That’s good stuff, those 1 p.m. games. Win or lose, you can get things done on Sunday afternoon.

“Who wants to come out here and help Dad rake leaves? Sweetie?”

Sound of wind whistling through trees…

Player/Game Observations

Where The Heck You Ben? A couple of reasons why this game might not have been as easy as some expected. One, while Ben Roethlisberger’s inability to play may have helped overall, it could have messed with the Patriots’ psyche. Think about it: While Tom Brady sat out the first four games, a pattern seemed to develop with New England opponents regarding sluggish starts. The Cardinals, despite opening at home, looked lackadaisical. Miami got torched by Jimmy Garoppolo in the first half before making a rabid comeback in the second. And Houston, facing rookie Jacoby Brissett, never quite got off the plane, mentally.

I point these out because I have to think playing against the backup of a renowned QB has to take some momentum out of a defense. Instead of telling your grandkids that you got to tackle Brady, you’re explaining that Brisett was in for that game. Maybe the Pats experienced that against Landry Jones (29 of 47, 281 yards, one TD, one INT) and had trouble motivating for this one. I don’t know.

Two, after their one-play, turnover-stopped opening possession, the visitors scored on their next two drives and went up, 14-0, looking very tough to stop. Tom Brady completed his first nine passes for 90 yards and ended up completing 19 of 26 (73 percent) for 222 yards and two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount looked tough early, gaining 28 yards on his first four carries during the Patriots’ early scoring drive. As humans with all the foibles of such, New England might have figured they had a win in their pockets after a two-score lead. Back to the previous point, the Steelers going Roethlisbergerless probably made it tempting for the visitors to start coasting.

Not saying taking a mental break was the right thing to do; the Patriots need to address playing four full quarters of football. We’ll see if they can sustain a lead and even increase it against a tough team.

For Whom The Bell Trolls: You know, considering the faux penalty on Dont’a Hightower for a perfectly legal hit on LeVeon Bell, which happened right after a woeful punt/shank by Ryan Allen, which succeeded a missed third-down conversion catch by Brandon Bolden, it’s amazing the Patriots held Pittsburgh to a field goal attempt on their ensuing drive (which was missed). The Steelers had more chances to gain momentum than an iceboat on a windy day. Commendable work by the defense to limit the damage.

Young Guns Having Some Fun: Oh, not big fans of Wham! you say? Well, you were on Sunday, as New England’s combination of blocking schemes – including tight end whams and wide receiver crack blocks – opened the way for Blount’s day. The burly-back finished with 127 yards on 24 carries (5.3 avg) and two touchdowns, the second of which featured him darting left, cutting right, and charging toward the end zone like a cartoon rhinoceros in ballet slippers. For a clip of that run, click here. For an image of a cartoon rhinoceros in ballet slippers, click here. (Ah, Internet. You can’t be stumped.)

Ghost Story: Okay, Stephen Gostkowski’s kicking problems are officially a thing. Not sure what else to say about it. On the one hand, it would seem prudent to bring in another kicker. On the other, that might mess with Gostkowski’s head. Maybe competition isn’t what he needs right now.

Not sure. But if I see another extra point attempt go wide, I will lose it to the point where my wife, once again, will have to call from the other room to see if I’m okay.

A Modern Day Warrior, Mean, Mean Stride: I know, I know, sacks are an overrated stat. Still, it would be amazing if the Patriots could get a super-nasty pass-rusher into their defensive mix (and, while Kyle Van Noy should prove a reliable complementary player, he is not the guy). Again (ad infinitum), holding the home team to 16 points mattered the most, but allowing some of those third-down conversions proved infuriating. For example, late in the third, Pittburgh got two successive third-and-10 conversions. They failed to convert a third third-and-10, however, and settled for a 44-yard field goal to make it 20-16 at the start of the fourth.

Yes, the Patriots held off on the blitz, usually sending just three or four defenders. But if their front line had more dynamism – if, for example, Jabaal Sheard could require more double-teams and Long and Rob Ninkovich could win more one-on-one battles – then your defense could start making things happen, getting the ball back to the offense more quickly.

(Fun note: As pointed out by Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit, the Patriots’ third-down defense at Pittsburgh was their best showing of the season, as they held the Steelers to a 31 percent conversion rate. Hunh. Funny how a couple of third-and-longs can fuzzy-up perception.)

Of course, when you get the ball back, you have to take care of it…

Ho-o-o-o-g-a-a-n! Two turnovers from Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman didn’t contribute to a winning formula, especially in an away game. Edelman’s was especially disappointing. He held that football like he was Jean Valjean trying to feed his family. At least it’s likely that two of the most capable receivers in Foxboro will work on avoiding such mishaps again anytime soon.

Sans Antonio: Saw a tweet by Steelers super-receiver Antonio Brown featuring a photo of him and Tom Brady with the hashtag #DontSleepOnThe6thRound, and it reminded me of my interview with Brown as a Central Michigan junior before the 2010 draft. I figured the Patriots could get some production out of a versatile receiver like him, but instead they used a third-round pick on receiver Taylor Price and a fourth-rounder on The Tight End Who Shall Not Be Named.

I’m usually not the best at scouting pre-draft talent, so forgive me as I cash in one of my few “I Told You So” chits here.

On a related note, you can also read this engaging Q&A with Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats from when he was prepping for the 2010 draft. As a senior defensive end at James Madison, Moats earned the Buck Buchanon Award for best defensive player in the FCS. He also had some noteworthy comments on his meetings with the Patriots and the Redskins. The Bills drafted Moats in the sixth round.

No, I Can’t Dig It: All-Pro receivers aside, I don’t like to nitpick on the draft. Results are still too early to call here, but I think we’re all disappointed in rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones’ “healthy scratch” (a journalistic way of saying “benching”) Sunday. Jones looked like a solid contributor as a slot corner in the preseason. He also did great work as a punt returner for Alabama in 2015, with four touchdown returns. In the first preseason game at Carolina, he had this nifty 60-yard take-back and seemed on his way to a regular gig. Hey, anything to keep Edelman and Danny Amendola out of harm’s way. But Jones’ recent ball-handling issues (e.g., the ball squirting loose on a kick return vs. Houston) have made him unreliable.

Here’s hoping Jones gets another chance and takes advantage of it.

Pat On The Back: Safety Patrick Chung hounded the Steelers, tallying 11 tackles and defending two passes. Chung did a little of everything and did it all well, covering tight ends and receivers all over the field while also providing stout run support. Sometimes when a defensive back piles up the stops, it’s a bad sign. Not so for Chung, who tackled runners like they were trying to steal the Olympic torch.

Random Observations

Giant Error In Judgment: Like adjusting their rearview mirror after the car crash, the Giants finally released kicker Josh Brown. The NFL had suspended him for one game for domestic assault. Of course, for months, the New York brass and NFL Commissioner/Owner’s Waterboy Roger Goodell had a decent idea of what had happened.  Apparently, knowledge of abuse wasn’t quite enough for Giants owner John Mara to suspend his kicker until public outrage grew. As Mara told WFAN in an interview a week ago:

“He certainly admitted to us that he abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that.”

So, here’s what’s been bothering me: after Brown’s admission, what, exactly, was Mara’s follow-up question? How is the “extent” of the abuse “a little unclear?” If someone says they’ve done something bad “in the past,” that connotes a repeated behavior. A proper investigation – and by no means am I giving Mara credit for anything proper here –  would have included the simple, direct inquiry, “How many times has this happened before?” Brown’s statement didn’t help much, especially considering he didn’t apologize to his ex-wife.

Keep in mind, the greatest quarterback of his generation served a four-game suspension after an 18-month odyssey that involved a $12 million investigation and multiple trips to court over alleged deflation of footballs that science has proven untrue. The Brown case tells us everything we need to know about a) Mara’s power among owners, b) Goodell’s arbitrary method of ruling, and c) the NFL’s callous disregard for the victims of domestic abuse in particular and, we have to assume, women in general.

Call It A Girlcott, Maybe: In light of the NFL’s mishandling of the Brown case and multiple other issues, let’s considering turning our televisions off when our favorite team isn’t playing. We can keep track of our fantasy team online (hell, we can keep track of everything online). Think about it. Sunday nights free. Monday nights getting to bed at a more reasonable hour. Thursday night games via Twitter for all the “color rush” jokes. This is the right time to make an impact and let the NFL know they have flaws that need to be changed.

Last year, I wrote a piece on The Unstoppable NFL, where I interviewed sports journalists to ask what, if anything, could derail the league. Most of us didn’t see a ratings decline anytime soon. I hate to admit this, but I didn’t include domestic violence as an issue, as I assumed Goodell had learned his lesson from the Ray Rice case. The league seemed to have established specific rules for such events. And, hey, the photos of Greg Hardy’s girlfriend’s bruises taken in 2014 didn’t reach the Internet until November of 2015, so I totally get a pass, right?

God damnit.

I said this about the problem of leadership within the NFL:

“It seems probable the commissioner will make more mistakes; therefore, it must be possible he makes one or two big enough to actually make an impact. But how big do those gaffes have to get?”

I guess we shall see.

The Catcher Kicker In The Rye Tie: What a bunch of phonies. Just when we thought the Gostkowski situation looked depressing, here comes last Sunday night’s game, featuring two missed field goals in overtime to ensure an oh-so-suitable 6-6 tie between Arizona and Seattle. (One more 6 would confirm our suspicions on who engineered this hellfest.) And these are, presumably, two of the best teams in the NFC.

I love great defensive plays as much as anyone, but I feel like people who enjoyed the Sunday night game as a “defensive battle” probably appreciate action movies for the exposition. (In seismology terms, what we’re experiencing is what we call ‘a swarm event.) I mean, yeah, it’s important, but it’s not the only reason to watch, you know?

Kind of like that 9-3 Pats win over Cleveland in 2003. Ugly. Frustrating. I was happy it was over. But at least it wasn’t a tie.

Not A Home Run, Derby: As much as I understood it, I was sorry to see the Patriots trade away tight end A. J. Derby to Denver. The second-year athlete had an eye-opening preseason, averaging 12.6 yards per catch (15 for 189), and seemed ready to contribute as a smaller, quicker, “move” tight end. But, with the multiple talents of Gronk and Martellus Bennett, Derby had no receptions. Seems risky to have only two tight ends on the roster, but if necessary, tackle Cameron Fleming can come in to block, while Edelman, Hogan, Amendola, and James White can handle the short passes.

W-E-E-Why Oh Why: Listening to the WEEI morning show hosts discuss (shout?) politics reminds me of when “Law & Order” features a case involving a rock band. They try to hit the right notes (literally, I guess), but it always seems forced and obvious. The name of the band is something like Slutty Sally and the Punky Girlz, and the suspects say things along the lines of, “Bummer, man. She just wanted to rock ‘n’ roll, you know?” The rudimentary, intentionally ignorant political talk on WEEI doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I hear about politics everywhere else in media; call me nuts, but I listen to sports radio to hear about sports-related topics.

By the way, no complaints here if they want to have Trenni Kusnierek on the show more often. Nice to have an informed voice amidst the same old noise. You can follow her on Twitter @trenni – worth it for her recent takedowns of the NFL botching the Brown case.

Walking Dead To Me: I have seen every episode of “The Walking Dead,” and this past Sunday I saw my last. No spoilers here, but it said a lot that Chris Hardwick, the host of the companion show “Talking Dead,” teased viewers by saying, “I’m here for you; let’s get through this together.” And it hit me: why on God’s Great Green Earth would I want to watch a TV show that I need help to “get through?” It wasn’t entertaining. It didn’t make me feel good; it didn’t make me look forward to the next show.

It actually reminded me of my last episode of “ER” (darkly titled, “Be Still My Heart“), where adorable intern Lucy Knight got stabbed. Just … why? I don’t want to go through that. Sure, it’s a hospital emergency room where characters are expected to die, but it made no sense to take out the adorably plucky intern, especially by having a psychologically disturbed patient murder her. In interviews, the “Walking Dead” writers constantly talk about how, as much as they don’t want to, they have to kill off characters to keep the stakes real. But, wait: No. No, they do not. It’s a show about a zombie apocalypse. Realism isn’t a huge requirement.

Also, if they cared about realism, why would they have seasoned, grizzled characters constantly doing stupid things? And how come the walkers can run and climb a fence in the season one episode “Guts” yet don’t do either action again for the rest of the series? Did they forget?

To hell with it. I’m done.

Chris Warner hated that goddam Elkton Hills. He can also be tweeted @cwarn89

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.

NFL.com 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 patsfans.com 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?

“Nothing.”

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.
Sincerely,

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 (chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com) or Twitter @cwarn89 

Patriots Reading List

While we wait for the Red Sox to start their first-round series with the Cleveland Indians tomorrow night, a few notes from a Patriots long-form rich Tuesday.

No More Questions – We’ll start with this impressive oral history of Bill Belichick from David Fleming at ESPN. This article will appear in next week’s edition of ESPN the Magazine.

Unlike a previous ESPN piece, the anonymous quotes are kept to a minimum. Only two individuals decided to go unnamed in the piece, and unsurprisingly, both had a negative opinion.

Former NFL Head Coach: “Bill likes creating the image of an outlaw, the tough guy. I think he really relishes it. But who is he really? He was kind of a geeky kid. Not that athletic. A failed football player.”

What a coward. “A failed football player.” How so? I’m pretty sure Belichick wasn’t under any illusions at Wesleyan that he was going to be playing in the NFL. The comment also seems to indicate that it was someone who had played in the NFL as well.

Don Shula? Dan Reeves? Tony Dungy?

So who is this? The line about being him being “kind of a geeky kid” makes me think it is an older coach, someone who might’ve seen Belichick at that age.

The second bit:

Former NFL Coach: “He will step across the line at any point he thinks he can get away with it. That [stuff] happens. It absolutely fits with the culture and the mindset there. It’s all about winning, and when you’re working 23 hours a day looking for every advantage and you have your whole life invested in the outcome of a football game, honestly, how long before you start to think, ‘Well, if I go just a little bit further with pushing the envelope, what’s the difference?’ The harder you work and the more you’re invested in it, the more you start to think like Bill and the easier it becomes to justify it.”

Is this the same guy as above? Or someone else? This seems an interesting connection:

Other than these couple blips, the piece is overwhelmingly positive. It just shows how much easier it is to trash someone when you’re being anonymous. (Hello, Don Van Natta!)

Letters from a young Bill Belichick reveal another side to coach – Another piece on the Patriots head coach focuses on a fan who wrote to him while Belichick was coaching the Cleveland Browns. In contrast to the portrait painted in the local papers at the time, the writer finds Belichick to be engaging, kind and helpful.

WHY YOU REALLY HATE TOM BRADY – Jeff Pearlman at Bleacher Report with a half-satire look at why people actually dislike the Patriots QB.

This part was fascinating:

The leading voice in category B is John Teerlinck, a longtime NFL defensive line coach who retired in 2012 after 11 years with the Colts. In 27 total seasons in the league (four as a player, 23 on the sidelines), Teerlinck says he witnessed every sort of imaginable rules violation. Vaseline-coated jerseys? Check. Taping the practices of opposing teams? Check. Paying off players for vicious hits? Check. Deflating and inflating footballs? Check.

“Everyone—and I mean everyone—is guilty of doctoring and messing with footballs,” he says. “But the media makes a big deal out of something that’s not a big deal. At home games, I’ve seen teams take 50 footballs, put them in the sun, roll them around, scuff them up. I’ve seen kickers take 45-pound plates from the bench room, put the nose of the football through the weight and drop the ball through, just to break the nose off either end of the ball and un-stiff it. I can tell you stories about two-way glass divides where one team spies on the other. I can tell you about microphones in the visiting team’s locker room. I can tell you about guys coming in and taking pictures of what coaches write on the board. There’s no end to it.”

Wait, what?

“When you’re good, people don’t like you,” says Teerlinck. “The cheating thing—that’s just bulls–t. Tom Brady is really good.”

Tom Brady has done his time for Deflategate, but the science says he’s not guilty – MIT Professor (and Eagles fan) John Leonard reacts after Exponent’s defense of its Wells Report work in John Branch’s recent advertorial in The New York Times.

He challenges the Exponent scientists to show their work.

Respectfully, I request Dr. Robert Caligiuri, Corporate Vice President at Exponent, to review his team’s work for the Logo Gauge and to explain what seems to clearly be either an error in logic or an error in computation. In my opinion, the league’s experts should publish a correction: “If referee Walt Anderson used the Logo gauge, the Patriots halftime measurements are fully explained by the environmental factors tested under the most likely game conditions and circumstances.”

Specifically, I believe Exponent should clarify their decision not to retract or qualify their findings based on the readily apparent errors in Figures 26, 27 and 28. These figures show the transient pressure curves for the Logo Gauge measurements of the two teams’ footballs over the course of halftime. It applies a calibration conversion of the Patriots Logo Gauge values to match a more accurate “master gauge” that Exponent used in its experiments. (Exponent’s master gauge costs about $1000; Anderson’s gauges cost about $20; in measurement, cost translates to accuracy.)

Later:

In an ideal world, I would love to get the chance to talk through many of the details of the case with Exponent’s scientists. I am extremely curious if they have additional experimental data not included in the report—for example, did they perform simulations with the Logo Gauge with a 71°F locker room temperature? Are they willing to publish the individual ball-by-ball measured values for their simulations? Did they perform simulations that included the rubbing procedure? I can think of many questions to ask and additional experiments that would be interesting to perform.

Tom Brady’s Revenge Tour Has NFL Up at Night – Mike Freeman has some interesting quotes.

An AFC defensive assistant coach put it rather succinctly, and he’s right.

“Thanks to Roger Goodell,” said the coach, “Tom Brady is going to kill us all.”